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In Defense of Warner’s Gun Votes

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by Paul Goldman

At 200 proof, we reject, with all due respect, the views of teacherken and others as regards their decision Never to Vote Again for Mark Warner. They base their decision on the senior Senator’s votes against certain gun measures backed by the President, Senator, junior Senator Tim Kaine, and most of the party’s other U.S. Senators.

At 200 proof, we believe the “nuclear option” – tying your vote in 2014 for any election to a single issue – should only be exercised in the rarest of circumstances, when the matter is reduced to such a clear moral litmus test there is for all intents and purposes no real choice at all. As I say, this is extremely rare: and rarer still would be the circumstance were reasonable people would fail to see the existence of said circumstance.

With all due respect, the gun bill defeated by the Senate was not such a circumstance. Let me humbly suggest that such one-issue litmus tests are a slippery slope in these such circumstances.

Let me quickly explain. But first, let me say this: teacherken would be on a lot stronger footing if he hadn’t tried to make himself into a martyr first by saying he knew he was committing political suicide by taking on Warner.  The stronger posture is to take your stand, and not praise your courage at the same time. When others record your courage, then you can claim it as a matter of right. But if you claim it prematurely, then you undercut your argument big time because it becomes political, not moral. Don’t personalize the issue, because a moral issue is way above that.  

As to why drawing moral lines is so tricky. In 1989, it is well documented that I first suggested how the Wilder campaign would make history in reformatting the abortion issue as a political argument. There is a book on that. It was a 200-proof political call, I concede it. But there is a back story.

I believe life begins at birth. My religion teaches me this, my thinking deduces this. There are a lot of people who think this view is immoral, who think my strategy for Wilder was immoral. They believe life either begins at conception or at sometime long before birth. In their view, what presents a more moral choice than abortion?

The Constitution of the United States protects the rights of all persons on our soil to have certain liberty rights, which include the right to life. “Life and liberty” are two of the three self-evident rights according to the Declaration of Independence. Killing is immoral under laws except in very limited circumstances. It violates the 10 Commandments.

I agree with all of that. But my moral beliefs made it easy for me to make a 200-proof political decision. It was a totally moral position. I think life begins at birth. But what if I am wrong, what if life begins at 40 days – as some great religious teachers believed – or sooner? As a mortal person, I don’t know the answer to a moral certainty. I never will.

SO: Would therefore the moral thing to do be erring on the side of caution, in case I am wrong? Because if I am wrong, I would be taking a life contrary to the Constitution. I think my efforts in 1989 were highly moral, that it is immoral for the government to deny the right to choose  in case of rape or incest irrespective of what a woman, her family, her doctor believe is the right course action.

Others disagree. I respect their moral views, whether they respect mine or not. The point being: if you stay in politics long enough, if you fight for things hard enough, you are going to face a lot of tough choices at different times on different issues. One has to very careful when one plays moral censor, because no mortal can long stay in that posture without exposing those feet of clay.

Mark Warner hurt his own posture by offering a rather silly excuse. He should have simply said I made a choice, and others will have to judge me, that is our democracy. He didn’t need to defend his vote: it was self-explanatory. You either agree or disagree. The bill, the measures, were not going to pass, every Senator knew that, and so it is very possible Warner simply made some strategic votes looking to 2014. There is nothing wrong, much less immoral, about it.

You can agree or disagree, passionately so, that’s your right. But if you are looking be Cato the Elder, finding your moral superiority in the gun vote isn’t where to find it.

  • I agree with you that Warner knew those measures he voted against wouldn’t pass anyway, so it was a “free vote” in a sense – what the hell, he probably thought.  Personally, I’ve got a LOT more issues with Warner than guns. Remember, I backed Jim Webb – who LOVES guns with a burning passion! – in 2006, for a bunch of other reasons. Clearly, I am NOT a single-issue voter. I’m also a pragmatist who wants Democrats to beat Republicans, and who knows that Dems are better than Republicans on just about everything these days. And, of course, I will vote for Warner over his Republican opponent in the future, assuming Warner’s the nominee.

    On the other hand, I’d love to see a strong progressive challenge Warner in a primary, due to his egregious (IMHO) positions on a host of issues, such as his disgusting pandering to the coal industry; his frequent “hippie bashing” of progressives, environmentalists, etc; his near-constant use of Republican/right-wing “framing;” his obsession with the austerity/deficits over job creation; etc. Last but NOT least, I’d point out that Warner won in 2008 by an enormous margin, and is likely to cruise to reelection in 2014 as well.  The point is, he’s got plenty of political capital to expend, plenty of electoral margin to spare. Yet he’s not spending or sparing it. Why not?  I can’t read his mind, but I don’t see how it says anything good about him.

    P.S. Oh, and I most certainly WILL NOT support Warner for president in 2016, 2020, 2024, 2028, 2032, 2036, 2040, 2044, or 2048. I might consider 2052, but he’s got a lot of fence-mending to do before then. 🙂

  • From Americablog: “If I could personally and magically force these men and women to take up a new line of work, I would. These are the NRA Dems who voted worst on a tally of all five votes listed above (four guns votes and one Keystone vote):