The Heller ruling and the 2008 elections

I’ve had time to think about the impact of the Heller ruling on the 2008 elections now, and I’m concluding that a pro-gun-rights ruling with a 5-4 split was absolutely the worst possible outcome for Barack Obama’s campaign.

Before the ruling, the conventional wisdom was that Obama would be hurt worst by an anti-gun-rights finding. According to this theory, such a ruling would have frightened and angered the Republican base into lining up behind McCain, a candidate who arouses deep misgivings among movement conservatives and won the primaries on his ability to attract more centrist voters. On the other hand (it was supposed) a ruling affirming the unconstitutionality of gun bans would make Obama’s anti-gun record less frightening by removing firearms confiscation from a President Obama’s list of policy options. Gun-rights voters might, in that scenario, feel freer to vote for him — or at least stay home.

If the ruling had been a 6-3, 7-2 or more lopsided split, I think that analysis might have held good. The 5-4 split, though, serves Republican rhetorical purposes nearly as well as an adverse ruling would have. Earlier I quoted a blogger calling himself SayUncle:

“In other news, 5-4 was bit too close for comfort in my opinion. I was figuring on 6-3 or 7-2, honestly. Sure, this quiz was pass/fail but we were only one heart attack away, my friends. I hate to say it but that one reason is why I’ll hold my nose, get good and hammered, and pull the lever for John McCain. And I’d have to shower after that too.”

I think a lot of the red-state Republican base who have been very leery of McCain are likely to be making that calculation right now, and McCain has already shown he’s not going to be slow to exploit the opening it gives him. That means Obama isn’t going to get the pass on his anti-gun record that most commentators were expecting a ban on gun bans would give him.

Nor is that effect likely to be confined to the conservative base. Gun owners who are (like me) libertarians and swing voters are in the same fix as SayUncle. Many of us have good reasons to loathe McCain; mine, as I’ve previously mentioned, is that I think BCRA (the McCain-Feingold campaign finance “reform” act) was an atrocious assault on First Amendment liberties. Others can’t stand McCain’s position on immigration, or the idiotic blather he tends to spew on economics-related subjects. But for those of us who think Second Amendment rights are fundamentally important, voting for anyone who would appoint more anti-firearms judges (a certainty from Obama given his past views) is just not an option.

That translates into votes for McCain. Probably including (though I shudder and retch at the thought) my vote. It’s not like there’s any chance Obama’s going to push for the repeal of BCRA. So I’m left with a choice between a candidate hostile to both my First and Second Amendment rights and one that supports the Second Amendment. (Normally I’d vote Libertarian, but the LP’s isolationist foreign-policy stance seems so batty after 9/11 that I can’t stomach that option in this cycle.)

But Obama’s problem is actually worse than this, because he responded to Heller on the same day with a mealy-mouthed recantation of his earlier public statement that the D.C gun ban was constitutional. It’s tactically understandable why he did so; he didn’t want to go into the general election stuck with a position that both the Supreme Court and (according to current Gallup polling) 70% of the electorate have rejected.

Unfortunately, given his record and his long association with outfits like the Joyce Foundation, there is no plausible way to interpret this recantation that makes Obama look good, whether you’re pro-2A or anti. Pro-gunners are going to believe (rightly, I think) that the recantation is a flat-out lie. Anti-gunners will either agree and approve of the lie (hoping it fools the mouth-breathing red-state clodhoppers just long enough to allow him to slide into the White House) or believe he’s telling the truth and be furious with him for changing sides.

Either way, it looks like just another insincere flip-flop for transient political advantage — and, like Obama’s self-reversal on accepting public campaign funding, it is so embarrassingly unconvincing that it is likely to do noticeable damage to his “new politics” Teflon coating even among his erstwhile cheerleaders in the MSM.

Barack Obama has demonstrated, at least, great tactical cunning in his campaign. Therefore, I’m certain that right now he’s wishing the Heller ruling had come down 7-2 or better and he didn’t have to deal with what McCain is going to do to him over this issue.

I’ll finish by re-quoting McCain’s delicious, deadly zinger:

“Unlike the elitist view that believes Americans cling to guns out of bitterness, today’s ruling recognizes that gun ownership is a fundamental right — sacred, just as the right to free speech and assembly,”

The sting here isn’t just McCain’s “sacred right” appeal to gun owners, it’s the way he links Obama’s anti-firearms record to the sense of elitism, entitlement and disdain for traditional American values that radiate from the man. These traits play well in Berkeley and on the Upper West Side, but they lose national elections.

Like John Kerry in the last election cycle, Obama increasingly looks like a man who knows the price of arugula but the value of nothing. And if John McCain can convince voters of that, he’ll not just win the general election — he’ll actually deserve to.


  1. Do you really think that gun rights are more important than all other issues combined? More important than foreign policy, economic policy, and environmental policy? More important than transparency and accountability in government? More important than deference to professionals and facts instead of cronies? More important than fiscal responsibility? More important than social liberality?

    And do you really think that confiscation is politically possible anytime soon?

  2. (Managed to find this comment in an Xemacs backup file :-)

    While I agree that Obama must be defeated for other reasons, e.g. avoiding a civil war by establishing a precedent of prosecuting the last Administration, I think is it fatuous to suggest that McCain would appoint judges who would look favorably on both Heller and McCain-Feingold. Just not going to happen “on this side of the looking glass” (quoting someone who I’ve misplaced).

    The Dems in the Senate are VERY unlikely to confirm anyone favorable to us, and why would McCain upset his buddies there (just look at all the “McCain-[some very liberal Dem]” legislation he’s proposed)?

    I’m afraid this is an example of the triumph of hope over experience; remember Harriet Miers? We got Samuel Alito, who McCain said was “too conservative”, but mostly by luck. Half the votes against Heller were nominated by Republicans; normally we can hope for an even split of good and bad Justices from a Republican President, but I doubt so in this case. Don’t forget that McCain showed us just how pro-gun he was after he lost the 2000 presidential primary (not very, see for a start).

    Unlike G. W. Bush I may believe him when he says he wouldn’t sign a new AW ban—unlikely to be an issue given how the Dems in Congress prefer job security over wins in this issue—but I expect nothing helpful from him or the Republicans in the next four years on the RKBA.

    – Harold

  3. David McCabe said:

    “And do you really think that confiscation is politically possible anytime soon?”

    Confiscation has happened recently in Chicago and California. Multiple times. To name a few examples.

    It’s just too bad those who came for the guns didn’t get killed taking them.

  4. Great post… I was going to write a check to McCain but now it will require a written statement about his 2001 Gun control Bullshit. Obama? He is out to get guns as an elitist liberal.

    Ron Paul is my man he is out… Rod

  5. We ended up year after year arguing some of the biggest cases in the country. There was a degree of serendipity in that, but there was also a concerted effort to seek out and lead conservative fights.

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