Denver — In 2007, Senator Barack Obama stood up for a gun owner. He endorsed Chicago Alderman Dorothy Tillman in her Democratic primary. Not only was she a gun owner, but she had even pulled a gun on her colleagues during a contentious 1991 ward redistricting hearing, according to eyewitnesses. Tillman, best known for demanding to be served by black (not white) waiters, and for advocating reparations for slavery, narrowly lost her race despite Obama’s support.
It would be only a slight exaggeration to say that this was the strongest effort Obama has ever made to support gun rights.
The Rocky Mountain West, now hosting the Democratic Convention, is loaded with gun owners, as are several other states in the Midwest that are key to winning the presidency. Despite Democrats’ efforts to mollify them as a voting bloc, gun owners have been suspicious of Democrats in recent years. In 2004, 41 percent of voters came from gun-owning households — 63 percent of these voted for President Bush.
Not all Democrats oppose gun rights as reflexively as Barack Obama and other big-city liberal Democrats. Two such men addressed the convention yesterday. The National Rifle Association praises Mark Warner (D.), a candidate for Senate, for his time as governor of Virginia. “Warner signed over 20 pro-gun bills, and was a valuable ally for gun owners and sportsmen,” the group’s website states. Sen. Bob Casey (D., Pa.), also a supporter of gun rights, received an “A” from the NRA in his successful 2006 race.
It is no mistake that these two men were chosen to speak yesterday on Obama’s behalf, with Warner giving the convention’s keynote address. The clear intention is to create a “big tent” image for the party, not only on gun rights and other issues as well. But gun owners should know that when Casey and Warner spoke on behalf of Obama, they were putting their good names behind a staunch advocate of gun control — a man who has supported an outright ban on gun ownership and who ran for federal office four years ago promising to invalidate every state’s concealed-carry laws.
Ingenious Lack of Specificity
According to a 1996 questionnaire he filled out while running for the Illinois Senate, Obama promised to support a ban on “the manufacture, sale and possession of handguns.” Even though Obama’s handwriting appeared on the questionnaire, Obama’s campaign would claim earlier this year that his staff filled it out and he was completely unaware of the answer he had given.
You don’t have to go back that far to find Obama taking an extreme stance against gun rights. In 2004, while running for the U.S. Senate, he promised to bar citizens nationwide from receiving concealed-carry permits. The Chicago Tribune reported then that Obama “backed federal legislation that would ban citizens from carrying weapons, except for law enforcement.” Obama explained his plan to pre-empt state concealed-carry laws with a federal bill: “National legislation,” Obama said at the time, “will prevent other states’ flawed concealed-weapons laws from threatening the safety of Illinois residents.”
Senator Obama also supported the District of Columbia’s comprehensive gun ban — he said so in a February television interview with Washington’s WJLA, available on YouTube. The D.C. gun ban prevented district residents from owning handguns even in their own homes. It required that long guns, all of which had to be registered, be kept locked and disassembled. There wasn’t even a provision allowing them to be reassembled in the event of an emergency.
Despite his on-camera endorsement of the ban, Obama would later obscure his support for it. He would even go so far as to claim falsely that the Supreme Court’s Heller ruling, which struck down the gun ban, was in line with his view. But in case there is any doubt, Obama’s three favorite Supreme Court justices — Stephen Breyer, David Souter, and Ruth Bader Ginsberg — all voted against that ruling, to keep the gun ban in place. In The Audacity of Hope, Obama cites Breyer in particular as a model for the sort of justice he will appoint as president. He has promised to pick guardians of the Constitution who do not respect gun rights and believe that a comprehensive ban on gun ownership is consistent with the second amendment.
Senator Obama has a history of projecting a misleading moderation in his politics — and he does it very smoothly. According to his biographer, David Mendell, one of Senator Barack Obama’s greatest political virtues is “his ingenious lack of specificity. . . . While talking or writing about a deeply controversial subject, he considers all points of view before cautiously giving his own often risk-averse assessment, an opinion that often appears so universal that people of various viewpoints would consider it their own.”
In his big speech tomorrow, Obama will work to project moderation not only on the issue of guns, but also on taxes, abortion, and other issues of importance to the American public. So far, his strategists are succeeding in framing him as the moderate he has never been. After the Democratic primaries, between June and July, Rasmussen Reports found an 11 point decline (to 56 percent) in the number of Americans who even believe that Obama is a liberal.
Then again, the polls also show growing public suspicion about Obama’s “ingenious lack of specificity.” A New York Times/CBS poll found last month (PDF here) that 51 percent of Americans believe Obama says “what he thinks people want to hear” rather than “what he believes.” That number had grown dramatically over the previous July, from 32 percent.
As the voters become more restless, Democrats will try to put the halo back on Senator Obama’s head by juxtaposing him with more moderate members of his own party. But as the moderates endorse Senator Obama, bear in mind that Obama disagrees with them on the issues.
– David Freddoso is a staff reporter for National Review Online and author of The Case Against Barack Obama.