"Shame on us," the president said. Speaking at the White House in front of citizens who had been recruited to serve as the backdrop for a photo op about gun control, Barack Obama was at his thoughtful best as he hectored Congress about its unwillingness to pass tougher laws in the aftermath of the mass shooting several months ago at a Connecticut elementary school.
It was a particularly embarrassing moment for the president, looking pensive and on the brink of another public policy failure. After having whipped the nation into a frenzy over the gun issue, he was poised on the brink of defeat. Congress would not pass a new ban on so-called assault weapons in spite of his calls to do so.
What Obama failed to admit is that he could not control his own party on the issue. It was not the Republicans who stopped the ban, but Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, a Nevada Democrat who depends on the votes of lawful gun owners to win re-election time and again. Nonetheless the president continues to jet around the country, travelling this week to Colorado and Connecticut to highlight the steps the administration has taken to limit public access to firearms and to keep the issue alive. And this, after all, is the real point of the exercise.
The president and the national Democratic Party leadership don't really want to force Congress to vote on the so-called assault weapons ban and other gun control measures. There are two many Democrats in red states and red congressional districts for them to do that without derailing the White House political operation's plan to control Congress for the last two years of the Obama presidency. Senators like Mark Pryor of Arkansas and Louisiana's Mary Landrieu cannot vote for firearms restrictions without feeling the political heat as they run for re-election next year – and might even lose their seats if they do.
The cynical truth is that the so-called assault weapons ban never had a chance and was never supposed to. The plan all along was to use it to rally the president's team, make activists and liberal Democratic voters believe it was killed because of Republican opposition and the National Rifle Association and channel the left's anger, energy and money into the effort to take back the House of Representatives in 2014.
The White House is on a two-week cycle, having been taken over by the political office and the president's political advisers. Policy-making is no longer the objective; instead it's gaining back power, power that will let them do what they want with Congress as a rubber stamp for the last two years Obama is in office. The "accomplish nothing" president is laying the groundwork for a campaign against a "do nothing Congress" which, he will try to get the American people to believe, is controlled by the Republicans.
It's not even a high stakes strategy so much as it's amateur hour all over again. The gun issue is only part of that. Get the country and the media energized over an issue the president has no intention of trying to solve and then point the finger of blame at someone else. It's not "Shame on us." It's shame on him.