This past week has been remarkably demoralizing for those of us seeking inspiration from Congressional leadership in Washington. On Friday the 15th -- appropriately the Ides of March -- the BBC reported on the release of audiotapes of Lyndon Johnson detailing Richard Nixon's treasonous sabotage of imminent peace settlements of the Vietnam War four days before stealing the 1968 presidential election. In lengthy recorded conversations, LBJ discussed information from the FBI's illegal wiretap of Nixon secretly arranging to persuade the South Vietnamese to withdraw from the peace talks in order to get a much better deal once he was elected. Because the tapes of Nixon were illegal, they could not be made public. According to this information, the war then lasted needlessly another four years, costing 15,000 more American deaths, hundreds of thousands more wounded, and hundreds of thousands of Vietnamese citizens killed.
Then on Tuesday, we marked the tenth anniversary of the Iraq War in which the country was misled into believing that Saddam Hussein was aligned with al Qaeda and wielded weapons of mass destruction that included an imminent ability to launch nuclear missiles at the U.S. This misinformation was disseminated by the Cheney-Rumsfeld-Wolfowitz triumvirate to whom President Bush deferred, costing over 4,000 Americans deaths, tens of thousands of maimed and traumatized soldiers, an estimated 120,000 Iraqi citizens killed, and well over two trillion dollars, while generating the hatred and scorn of most of the planet. A wave of Iraqi bombings killed 57 citizens on Tuesday to mark the anniversary. Mission accomplished.
In the context of those news events, and also on Tuesday, Sen. Harry Reid ambushed a shocked and furious Sen. Dianne Feinstein -- among our nation's strongest gun control advocates -- announcing that a thoroughly eviscerated gun bill would soon be presented for passage on the floor of the Senate. The bill would laughably contain but a single measure: stiffening the penalty for the already-illegal straw purchase of guns.
Gone were universal background checks. Gone were bans on semi-automatic guns. Gone was the illegalization of magazines containing more than ten bullets.
Survey after national survey demonstrates that fully 91 percent of Americans, including 84 percent of gun owners, strongly support universal background checks. Is there any other issue that 91 percent of us strongly support? Hard to come up with a single example? Breathing? Maybe. In addition, the same surveys show a strong majority favoring bans on semi-automatic pistols, rifles, and large magazines.
News reports on his earlier private meeting with Feinstein described her predictably storming from the office. No surprise. What seems incomprehensible is that a befuddled Reid was reported to have been shocked and bewildered when she became so upset! How could he possibly have expected otherwise!
Following Tuesday's announcement, the New York Times warned, "If Mr. Reid considers only the straw purchasing measure, it is likely that senators who favor gun rights will offer a flood of pro-gun amendments, many of them likely to pass the full Senate, which could essentially turn a bill intended to strengthen gun regulations into one that enhances gun rights." Twisted, surrealistic nightmare.
But hold the presses! Reid stunningly reversed course and announced on Thursday that he would immediately introduce a much different bill to the Senate floor that included universal background checks. Having signaled to the opposition by Tuesday's announcement that his bill would have weak support, it is hard to fathom what he was thinking.
At the other end of the spectrum, in Colorado, home of the Columbine and Aurora massacres, we see stunning bravery and courageous leadership. In a state known for gun enthusiasts, Democratic Governor John Hickenlooper heroically stood up to vicious pounding from the NRA machine, spearheading legislation through the state congress that would include a ban on magazines of more than 15 bullets, tight background checks in all gun sales outside of nuclear family transfers, and a fee imposition to cover the cost of each background check.
The governor, looking pale and traumatized on TV, courageously signed this bill into law only a few short hours after the point blank murder of Tom Clements, head of the Colorado Department of Corrections, as he answered a knock on his front door Tuesday evening.
Shortly before the murder, the NRA had issued a widespread statement: "Gov. Hickenlooper is likely to sign a series of draconian bills that attack your Second Amendment rights." Because the killer was still unknown and at large, it was unclear whether he was motivated by the NRA invective. The likely murderer appears to have been killed on Friday in a shoot-out with Texas police and seemed to have no connection to the gun legislation.
Let's be clear. Colorado is not New York State. Gov. Hickenlooper refused to be blackmailed into delaying the signing, despite palpable danger to himself, his family, and every member of his cabinet. Although security measures have been initiated, and the murder appears unrelated, he has bravely allowed himself to become a perpetual target for irrational gun extremists in order to do what is right. We are not just talking about political risk here.
A truly extraordinary profile in courage.
But returning to our Congress and its seemingly bewildered leadership, we must remember that the primary adversary to gun reform is not the NRA; the primary adversary it is demoralization. Surrendering to feelings of powerlessness and hopelessness. As in the war against the venal and seemingly invincible cigarette companies that began in the '50s and entails victories that continue to be won to this day, we have a long haul ahead of us.
For inspiration, we need look no further than the unflinching and straightforward words of President Obama, echoing earlier post-Newtown comments, in a speech that ignited 2,000 wildly enthusiastic young Israelis, "I can promise you this: political leaders will not take risks if the people do not demand that they do. You must create the change that you want to see."
By dialing 202-224-3121, you can contact the U.S. Capitol Switchboard which will connect directly with the offices of your senators and representatives. You can ask for their support, emphasize that you will be following their vote, and inform them that you will vote for them or for their opponent, regardless of party, based solely on their vote for gun control. You may also donate and find guidance from the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence.
The next few weeks are critical. The NRA is counting on your demoralization.