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Decoding the NRA Statement on the Newtown Massacre

The National Rifle Association, more commonly referred to as the NRA, has finally broken its silence over the massacre which took the lives of mostly school children in Newtown Connecticut. In a statement posted on its website and their Facebook page, the powerful gun rights lobby group said:

“The NRA is made up of four million moms and dads, sons and daughters – and we were shocked, saddened and heartbroken by the news of the horrific and senseless murders in Newtown. Out of respect for the families, and as a matter of common decency, we have given time for mourning, prayer and a full investigation of the facts before commenting. The NRA is prepared to offer meaningful contributions to help make sure this never happens again.”

The statement, though short, provides for interesting reading.

The political atmosphere in the United States of America appears to be vastly different after the Newtown slaying. The recent Aurora shooting and others this year shocked America and further fomented the gun control debate worldwide. But those displays of violence, though tragic and disturbing, had little impact on the domestic debate in the United States of America.

Now, quite possibly because so many young children were taken prematurely, both Democrats and Republicans, however few, are coming out in support of a change to gun laws.

Democrat Senator Dianne Feinstein plans to introduce a bill which will again ban assault weapons, 100 of them by name at least, which have removable clips. And the President has now announced that he supports the Feinstein bill, a similar legislative move to the ban on assault weapons which was brought into force during the Clinton administration but allowed to lapse.

But back to the NRA statement. What does it  potentially reveal? And what could the mixed messaging in the two sentence statement actually point to in terms of action?

The first part of the first sentence is replete with NRA chest-beating. It seeks to remind Americans that they have 4 million members in the United States of America. The sentence also points out that the NRA membership is made up of people who have sons and daughters and that are sons and daughters, just like the majority of those killed last week.

Of course too, there was the obligatory expression of sympathy in the second part of the first sentence.

And then the first part of the next sentence attempts to explain the delay in the response from the lobby group. The trouble with this is that regardless of the facts of the case, the expression of sadness has been unnecessarily delayed. It is abundantly clear that the public had been expecting to hear from the organisation much sooner than today.

But it is the very last part of the statement, the last sentence, which has provoked the most interest. And why wouldn’t it? The last of the sentences says that the NRA, “is prepared to offer meaningful contributions to help make sure this never happens again.”

Exactly what the “meaningful contributions” are remains unclear to the US and to the world, until at least Friday American time, when the group makes a public statement in front of the cameras.

What must be said too is that the National Rifle Association’s definition of “meaningful contributions” to the debate, probably differs quite dramatically to what those on the gun control side of the debate have in mind.

For any NRA contribution to the debate to actually be even remotely meaningful it must include, at the very least, public support for the Feinstein bill on assault weapons.

And for any action on guns in the USA to be truly meaningful, the response would have to go much further. More than 100 plus assault weapons named in Feinstein’s bill would need to be made illegal for any real impact to be made on the US gun problem. All semi-automatic weapons should be banned.

There are other sensible moves too, which the NRA should support and which will not in any meaningful way impact on the 2nd Amendment rights of US citizens.

There needs to be a more stringent and nationally coordinated gun licensing framework than the mish-mash of different regulations across the states at present.

And, as the President has backed, there needs to be a closure of the loophole which has seen unlicensed dealers able to trade in weapons privately and made access to firearms all too easy.

There is surely almost no chance of the them supporting the Feinstein bill and probably no chance of the NRA supporting a ban on all semi-automatic weapons beyond those named by the Feinstein bill. A better, more aligned licencing regime has more of a chance of being supported by the group of shooters. And a closure of the “gun show loophole” would likely be vehemently opposed. But maybe, just maybe, a much more stringent approach to the sale of weapons at gun shows might be endorsed.

It will almost certainly be a case of the NRA and the government, as well as the people, having different definitions of “meaningful contributions” in the fight against gun violence. And once again the NRA will be left behind in an alternative universe where reality has long been a victim of warped worldviews.

A Rollicking Speech But What of Expectations Management?

President Obama romped home in yesterday’s presidential poll in the US. It was a famous victory that most pundits had been unwilling to contemplate, at least as far as the extent of the victory for the incumbent yesterday. We were told it would be pretty close, even during the early part of the coverage, but in the end the result was quite comfortable for Obama. It was not of 2008 proportions, nobody expected that, but it was a good win, a strong win nonetheless.

At present Barack Obama has 303 electoral college votes, ahead of rival Mitt Romney on 206. After being behind in the popular vote early on Tuesday night, the President has pulled far enough ahead for any questioning of the extent of the result to be out of the equation. The President has over 59 million votes and his challenger, Governor Romney, over 56 million.

That means four more years as the chant went. Another opportunity to attempt to turn the American economy around and another opportunity to try to implement aspects of an extensive progressive agenda.

Of course there were mixed results during the first two years of Obama’s presidency. With control of both the Senate and the House of Representatives, the President largely failed to work towards implementing large swathes of his policy agenda. This was partly down to the state of the economy and also as a result of a much less partisan political environment. Some Democrats often vote with Republicans on Capitol Hill.

Mitt Romney was gallant and gracious in defeat, wishing the President all the best with very kind words during his concession speech late yesterday.

But it was the President that stole the headlines with a rollicking victory speech, the kind of oratory precision that Mr Obama is well and truly capable of and some may have thought was lost after some of his performances during the election campaign.

The speech was on a par with those leading up to his becoming President at the 2008 election and with his acceptance speech upon winning the Presidency. Again the President spoke of hope and opportunity for all, much in the same vein as those now famous speeches.

The speech was a vision more than an action plan. It was a look at what President Obama would like to do, what he values. It appeared more of a speech that a presidential challenger or first-term President having just won election, would deliver than it did the work of a second-term incumbent like Obama.

Of course, it was lacking in concrete policies and had some wild claims of reforms that Obama would like to pursue during his second term, like electoral reform, which will prove a massive and probably insurmountable challenge.

The speech undoubtedly excited a large number of people and that was the intention. Even people who do not agree with Mr Obama or his policies were in awe of the strong performance from the newly re-elected leader.

The President probably thought, going into his final term, that he could afford politically to give a speech like that, raising the expectations of the masses again. But whether or not that is smart is an entirely different proposition.

There are three factors that he would have needed to consider before appealing to people’s emotions like that.

The first is regarding his legacy. Does President Obama really want to be remembered for setting lofty goals and then struggling to achieve the vast majority of those aims?

Setting ambitious goals is something that progressive candidates do all the time, often setting too many tasks, failing to have time for some and not being able to successfully implement others. It can often be a significant reason for the failure of progressive governments in an electoral sense.

Progressive government is not inherently bad, but you must be able to manage expectations rather than overly excite them. It is better to be both a bit progressive and a bit conservative.

The second thing that Barack Obama should be wary about is the effect that the speech and its highly ambitious tenor might have on the campaign in four years time. What harm might another term of over-promising and under-delivering produce for the Democrat’s candidate in the 2016 presidential election.

There is one final thing that the President should have had in mind before delivering the speech. There is no extra money in the budget for anything. The United States of America is truly struggling fiscally and that could become a much deeper problem in the coming weeks.

It was a good speech, even a great speech. However, good speeches do not always make or mean good leaders, but they do help us remember them.

This Is the Political Story of a Hurricane

Post Tropical Storm Sandy has now vanished from the skies above the United States of America. In its wake it has left at least 90 dead with the final death toll likely to be higher than that. The hurricane has also resulted in billions of dollars damage to cities along the east coast of the USA. Now that the storm has passed, attention first and foremost has turned to the recovery with FEMA and the US President hitting the ground running. The US President has toured areas hit by the natural disaster and FEMA have commenced their post-disaster efforts.

Despite the fact that a tragedy has just transpired, the US election, which has seen an intriguing campaign so far, is still going ahead. Polling day is now less than a week away and after a brief ceasefire, electoral hostilities have resumed in key swing states across the country.

Inevitably, thought has turned to the effects that the hurricane has had on the campaign and might have on the outcome on election day. Would the storm help or hinder Barack Obama and end Mitt Romney’s chances or would it end Barack Obama’s hopes for re-election? Or would the storm have left the electoral equation relatively unchanged?

It would appear that there are two main scenarios which could play out as a result of Hurricane Sandy. But there is also the possibility of a third effect brought on by the tropical storm.

The first is the really obvious one. This is the one that seems to be in the mind’s and on the lip’s of many political commentators. That is that the devastation gives President Obama a chance to appear presidential, an interesting conclusion given that President is exactly what Barack Obama currently is.

This theory holds that the President, through responding to the crisis, will gain electoral momentum thanks to the horrific events which have killed so many, not just in the USA, but also throughout parts of the Caribbean.

Whether or not this theory holds any credibility is largely down to the states involved in the hurricane, with the broader populace probably not as concerned about Barack Obama appearing presidential as a result of something that does not affect them. Most of the directly hit states are well and truly in the bag for either side, save for Virginia and North Carolina.

The theory of looking presidential with strong and swift actions after a tragic event could also be applied to Mitt Romney. It is somewhat arguable that appearing presidential as the challenger could have more of a benefit than the incumbent coming across to voters in the same way.

Governor Romney quickly hit the bellwether state of Ohio for what was termed a ‘ hurricane relief event’. At this outing, Obama’s adversary organised for donations of food and other goods to be sent to storm-hit areas of the country.

This event and others like it as well as Romney’s responses regarding the awful events of earlier this week mean that he could also appear presidential to voters. Again, whether this matters is debatable, though with Governor Romney enjoying most of the electoral momentum, small gains could make a difference.

The other theory is that Sandy might be responsible for halting the momentum of the campaign.

This theory offers more negative consequences for the President than it does for Mitt Romney. Effectively, if this was the case it would mean that two days were removed from Barack Obama’s last week and a bit of the campaign. This means two less days campaigning for votes.

The final effect is mostly a positive for the sitting President, at least for the period of time it was in play.

It is within the realms of reason, even self-evident, that the hurricane provided a distraction for up to almost a week from the real issue that Americans will be voting on when Tuesday next week rolls around. For that time, news of the economy and debate about it would have played second fiddle to the approaching winds and rain.

Whether or not two days of almost zero talk about the has resulted in a change of the complexion of the campaign seems unlikely. The storm is over now too and the focus of the campaign has largely returned to domestic issues.

It would appear that any benefit for either Republicans or Democrats, President Obama or Mitt Romney, derived from the storm that hit the east coast, is small or even negligible. Stranger things have happened though. Who would have thought that a debate would result in quite a dramatic shift in voter intentions?

With less than a week to go in a tough contest, the result is still anyone’s, even with a hurricane thrown into the equation.

A Romney Win and Another Magic Act

The first Presidential debate of 2012 has passed. Expectations were, with Mitt Romney behind in the polls so close to the election in early November, that the debates were make or break for Mr Romney. Still recovering from recent gaffes, Tuesday night in Denver had to be the start of a recovery for the Republican challenger. For at least the first half of the 90 minute to-and-fro, Romney had the upper-hand, clearly outplaying his usually suave and confident political adversary, President Obama. Overall, Governor Romney came out of the experience the winner.

The normal confidence of the President just wasn’t there. It was as if the roles had shifted. Mr Romney was the one that looked and sounded confident, maintaining eye contact and a confident stance throughout. The incumbent Obama, on the other hand, failed to keep eye contact with his opponent and the audience, constantly writing down notes, something he’s rarely relied on in the past. The only one with less control on the debate was the moderator, broadcaster Jim Lehrer, who may as well not have been there.

Just what effect today’s effective win will have for the Republican candidate is debatable. Most likely, this first debate will not dramatically alter the contest as it stands, it’s just the first outing. There will probably be an improvement in the polls for Mitt Romney and the Republican campaign, but this won’t be dramatic.  Likely, any improvement will be a matter of one or two percent, if that.

What today’s outcome will do is breathe some life into the challenger’s campaign. The stronger performance will give the Republican party some much-needed confidence that after a tough couple of weeks in particular. It will convince strategists there still might be a glimmer of hope for that one day in November when voters will be asked to vote for another four years of President Obama or entrust Governor Mitt Romney and his Republican Party with government. The performance today is much more a psychological win than it will be a dramatic vote-winner.

One of the most interesting elements of the contest today was the seeming abandonment of some political differences between the two sides of politics in favour of a degree of “me tooism”. In particular, the Republican nominee seemed to be making the case that he was not going to be embarking on some of the dramatic policy shifts he’s announced, that at worst in a few areas, he’d be taking Obama’s policies and tinkering with them.

In fact today’s performance from Mitt Romney displayed elements of former Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd’s so-called “Howard lite” campaign. For Americans, Howard lite refers to policy and political positioning of Kevin Rudd as basically John Howard, but with some improvements, meant to paint Kevin Rudd as a change to the former Prime Minister John Howard, but not a dramatic one.

The interesting thing about this posturing is the longevity of it. The pretend similarities, most of them, lasted until the election had been run and won in late November 2007. Fewer similarities remained from then on. That’s likely how the outcome in US politics too. This sudden need to appear only slightly different in terms of policy to the Democrat administration would be thrown away early on in a Romney administration. The similarities exist in words only, not in deeds. In fact, these likenesses are actually a politically constructed illusion.

If these similarities were to continue and actually be implemented as policy, then they would have a serious impact on the budget. But of course, cuts are and need to be, in reality, the order of the day. However debate over what is and is not cut should continue.

Mitt Romney clearly won the debate, but today was only a battle. The war for the White House rages on for another four weeks. Governor Romney can claim to have the upper hand today but he is probably still behind in the overall conflict. Maintaining belief in the so-called similarities? Well, that’s a completely different magic act altogether.

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