Any time now, the Senate will vote down the Toomey-Manchin gun purchase background check compromise. I can’t say I’m sad about this. Even under the best of circumstances, the law would have been so watered down as to be almost meaningless. And that was very little gain in return for the possibility that the law would have been far worse than nothing. What I find interesting about the whole exercise is that it shows how little power senators have.
Yesterday, David Firestone over at Taking Note tried to explain, Why the Background Check Bill Is in Trouble. He gave as an example the freshman Republican from Arizona, Jeff Flake. Flake said he was against the bill because it could cause sales between friends and relatives to require a background check. Now, this is not true; Flake was just making this up to give himself an excuse for voting against the bill.
That’s the thing: in a reasonable world, Flake would have no trouble with this bill. After all, it is only fixing a long extant law that is not at all controversial. But I think I’m fair in divining that he is only voting against the bill because he is afraid of the specious charge that he voted for “gun control.” And so Senator Flake does not actually have the power to vote as he wishes.
But let’s be clear. There certainly are senators who will vote against the bill because it is really what they believe. Senators Rand Paul and Ted Cruz, I think, are against the whole background check system. But most senators are not like them. I’m sure at least 30 of the senators who vote against the very mild Toomey-Manchin bill will do so not because of their power but because of their lack of power.
And this is the way power works. Flake could use his power to vote as he sees right. But he won’t. He’s (rightly) afraid that if he uses his power, he will later lose it. But truly, this makes no sense. It is just a recipe for holding onto a pointless job. And the truth is that using political power will not necessarily lead to its destruction. But in my experience, those who seek power are morally weak—and that includes the true believers like Paul and Cruz. So it isn’t surprising that they will forfeit today to assure they will be around to forfeit tomorrow.