What does it mean that Republicans and independents joined Democrats yesterday to shut down Texas Senator Ted Cruz's anti-gun reform filibuster? It means Cruz lost a lot more than his filibuster.
At a certain point -- Cruz's point -- the gun reform debate ceases to be about guns and becomes instead an expression of basic faith or the lack thereof in American civil society. Do we believe our system of democracy works? Do we have faith in a system that prefers to use politics and law to resolve conflict whenever possible instead of bullets and blood?
Yesterday's vote wasn't about guns. It was about the basic freedom and right of open debate. This country was born of debate. It lives on debate. Cruz answered the question of faith in the country by trying to shut down debate itself on gun reform. He said no to that faith. By voting to shut down his filibuster, 16 Republicans, two independents and 50 Democrats said yes.
Before he launched his filibuster, Cruz staked out his anti-debate position clearly. On the radio with right-wing talk-show host Laura Ingraham, he said that he in his magnificence, one Ted Cruz, did not approve of or accept Senate rules allowing a simple majority of the Senate to decide whether or not to debate a bill. He wanted to make it tougher for senators to talk. By seizing the floor and forcing a vote on cloture, he did. Instead of a simple majority to open debate on the floor, it took three-fifths of the sitting Senate, a limit easily exceeded by yesterday's vote.
Was it worth the drama? From Cruz's point of view, clearly it was. This is the man who counters images of the Newtown dead with anecdotes of home invasion, casting himself as the champion of those in our country who reject much more than any kind of gun control: They reject the rule of law itself. For them, the right to own weapons of mass destruction is much more important than the right to vote, and don't even bother them with rights of free speech or debate.
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I own guns. Look at the picture. I have hunted some, not often, not well, but enjoyed it. Shot skeet, where I'd put myself in a category with Dick Cheney. Everybody duck! I think there's a conceivable circumstance out there where I might have to shoot somebody trying to get into my house uninvited.
Guns are probably somewhere in the same neighborhood with booze where blanket prohibitions are concerned -- just not gonna work. Mainly, I do not believe that I know everything there is to know about gun safety, gun deaths and the kind of gun reform laws that can be effective. That's why I want to hear my elected leaders debate the matter. That's how we resolve these things in a civilized democracy. We talk. We argue. We debate.
Not Cruz. His appeal is strictly to the people who are psychologically barricaded -- the ones who have lost faith in democracy, in civilization itself, who earnestly believe their best shot at survival comes out of the barrel of an AR-15 before anybody opens his mouth. They're the ones who don't want guns even talked about, who were angry with Obama simply for allowing research on gun violence to resume.
After yesterday's defeat for Cruz, some key players urged caution to those who would view the vote as a victory for gun reform, insisting instead it was a victory for debate. But you know what? In the longest run that's even bigger.