Saturday, January 24, 2009

Gillibrand vs. McCarthy

Gillibrand vs. McCarthy has National Implications

I loathe guns. If I could change anything about the Constitution, the Second Amendment would be second on my list (first would be direct election of the president.)

Circa 1981. Take away the glasses and the liberal looks about exactly like I did when I had hair. The guys and I used to say we were gonna road trip down to Iowa City to party with Berke Breathed. Little did I know.

But I accepted years ago that liberals (that was back before we were "progressives" again) had lost the gun control battle. We may have had a majority of soft support, but the intensity of single-issue voters, rejecting Democrats over that one issue, won out. People who may be willing to change their minds on abortion and gays, when it's defined as a matter of more freedom for more people, balk when they see THEIR kind of freedom in jeopardy. I came to accept it as a live and let live thing: "All right, you can have your damn Second Amendment, long as I get my First."

That mindset is still out there, as this Washington Post piece from just before the inauguration notes:
"When Obama got elected, I went out and bought a rifle and pistol shells for every weapon I own," he says. "I bought $400 worth of ammo."

Not that Loewer feared Armageddon or a race war; he was stocking up in case the warnings from the NRA and the gun dealers came true.

This is why a primary between newly appointed Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand and Long Island Rep. Carolyn McCarthy could be a big problem for red-state Democrats.

The first factoid folks picked up on, even before they started saying "Kirsten" instead of "Kristen," was Gillibrand's 100 percent NRA rating. That's just voting the district; anyone from a huntin' and fishin' district is going to do that. Like, say, House Appropriations Chair Dave Obey of Wisconsin.

There's one school of thought that says give Gillibrand time, let her start voting New York City for a while. But others says the gun record is unforgivable, and McCarthy is first in line.

McCarthy's intensity is understandable. Her husband and son were shot by a crazy guy in the 1993 Long Island Railroad shooting, and she switched parties to run on the gun control issue. In many ways, she is a liberal on one issue only. So that one issue would be her line of attack against Gillibrand.

So here's how it ripples nationally.

New York has a late primary, second week of September. And of course New York is a uniquely visible media market. We go into an off-year election, traditionally a slump for the White House party, with the voter-magnet Obama NOT on the ballot. And we'll have a high-profile in-fight in the nation's biggest media market and second-biggest political news market, in which the progressive position is defined, almost exclusively, as gun control.

It might help in New York--but what does it do in those new blue states like Virginia and North Carolina and Indiana?

Don't get me wrong. My first hope is that Gillibrand rises to her new role and unites the party. But. If that doesn't happen, I hope that someone other than McCarthy steps up, to make a broader-based progressive case that doesn't lead with the issue on which we're least popular.

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