Blow, Nocera and Collins

In “The Worst of Both Worlds” Mr. Blow says that the reason most Americans disapprove of Congress isn’t because of a specific policy or bad ethical behavior but because of inaction and partisan gridlock.  In “After the Shooting” Mr. Nocera reminds us that the world moves on quickly after headline-grabbing gun violence, but that for the victims, the pain never ends.  Ms. Collins considers “The Revenge of Magic Mike” and says hell hath no fury like a billionaire scorned.  Just look at what a certain mayor has planned for four senators who voted against his gun bill.  Here’s Mr. Blow:

Congress’s approval rating is abysmal. No news there. But it’s important to understand why.

According to a Gallup poll released Wednesday, the reason most Americans disapprove of Congress isn’t because of a specific policy or bad ethical behavior but because of inaction and partisan gridlock. Americans believe that Congress is broken.

And there is no need for any banal stretch for a false equivalency to explain why that would be. The reason Congress doesn’t work is because Republican lawmakers have ceased to believe that it should. For too many of them, compromise has become synonymous with collusion. They would rather resist than work. So the wheels of government are screeching to a halt. Obstruction and bluster have replaced solutions and courage.

As the former Clinton labor secretary Robert Reich wrote last week:

“Conservative Republicans in our nation’s capital have managed to accomplish something they only dreamed of when Tea Partiers streamed into Congress at the start of 2011: They’ve basically shut Congress down. Their refusal to compromise is working just as they hoped: No jobs agenda. No budget. No grand bargain on the deficit. No background checks on guns. Nothing on climate change. No tax reform. No hike in the minimum wage. Nothing so far on immigration reform.”

On that last point at least, Congress has a chance at redemption. It may be the best chance this year — and possibly the last during the Obama administration.

But the Republican caucus is deeply torn about how to deal with — and discuss — comprehensive immigration reform. Acerbic dissension among conservatives is doing damage to the Republican brand even as the legislation holds the promise of lifting the Congressional brand.

This could mean that whatever comes of the bill — pass or fail — Republicans could in fact get the worst of both worlds. If it passes, Republicans are not likely to be credited with the victory, and if it fails they will most likely be seen as responsible for the failure.

They have only themselves to blame.

Last week, the Republican-led House of Representatives voted to defund the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals programs, essentially voting to deport more Dreamers. (Only six Republicans voted against defunding the program; only three Democrats voted for it.) After the vote, the Hispanic Caucus tweeted: “House Republicans just voted to treat Dreamers and undocumented spouses of servicemembers in the same way as violent criminals.”

When the Senate tried Tuesday to bring the “gang of eight” ’s immigration bill to the floor, all 15 senators who voted to filibuster the law were Republicans.

The optics on this bill don’t look good. And things get worse online, where many Republican commentators have dubbed the bill “Shamnesty.” Opponents of the measure accuse Republicans who are for it of being apostates to the conservative cause, concerned more about presidential politics than principle and defending the Constitution.

There may be some measure of truth in these charges. Most political positions have a degree of ambiguity, a mix of genuine concern and raw cynicism.

For instance, while Hispanics make up about 16 percent of the population as a whole, three of the four Republican members of the Senate’s “gang of eight” — John McCain, Jeff Flake and Marco Rubio — are from states where the Hispanic population is more than 22 percent.

The one exception is Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, whose Hispanic population is only about 5 percent, but he has his own particular problems.

First, as South Carolina’s Augusta Chronicle pointed out in 2011:

“South Carolina’s population grew by 15.3 percent during the past 10 years, but its Hispanic population grew 148 percent.” Those are the kinds of numbers that can make a politician sit up and take notice.

And Graham’s current electoral math seems tougher than his last time out.

According to an April Winthrop University poll: “United States Senator Lindsey Graham, who is up for re-election in 2014, received a 44 percent approval rating among South Carolina registered voters, but his approval rating has dropped from 71.6 percent to 57.5 percent among Republicans and those independents who lean toward the G.O.P. compared to the February poll.  This drop corresponds to the entry of two vocal challengers, and discussion of a third, into the primary race against him.”

Furthermore, McCain ran for president in 2008 and lost, in part because he lost the Hispanic vote 2-to-1 to Barack Obama. And Marco Rubio is almost certainly making a run for the White House in 2016.

Whatever these senators’ motives, it’s clear that the Hispanic population is growing in many of their Southern, stronghold states, and it’s becoming increasingly hard to imagine a presidential victory without substantial Hispanic support.

But it’s becoming just as apparent that far-right conservatives see immigration legislation that allows a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants as a suicidal mission.

The problem is that their overwrought opposition — which may well be futile — may prove as damaging to their party as to the legislation itself.

Next up we have Mr. Nocera, writing from Austin, TX:

Fifteen years ago, on April 20, 1998, Jan Reid and three of his friends got into a cab in Mexico City. The four men were all affiliated with Texas Monthly, a magazine I’d worked for early in my career, which is how I knew Jan. They were in Mexico to attend a prize fight.

As Jan would later recount in his fine memoir, “The Bullet Meant for Me,” as soon as he got into the cab, he thought, “This doesn’t look right.” He quickly realized that the cab was being followed. The driver pulled over and allowed men in the other car to climb into the cab. They were brandishing guns.

After another short ride, during which Jan was pistol-whipped, the driver stopped, and the Americans were ordered out of the car. One of them ran for his life. In the chaos of the moment, Jan acted instinctively: He threw a punch at the gunman. The punch missed. The man shot Jan, who threw up his arm to block the bullet. It went directly through Jan’s arm and down into his abdomen, stopping just short of his spinal cord. He screamed in agony. “I thought it was curtains,” he told me recently.

With the six-month anniversary of the shootings at Newtown, Conn., approaching, I thought it was worth spending some time thinking about the “other” consequence of gun violence. Yes, guns kill people; Adam Lanza murdered 26 people at Sandy Hook Elementary School. But guns also leave victims permanently injured and in constant pain.

Think about the massacre last summer in Aurora, Colo., where, along with the 12 people killed, 58 were injured. Ashley Moser, 25, who was two months pregnant at the time, lost her baby and is now paralyzed. Once the news media moves on, however, people like her are forgotten. That’s why I came here to see Jan Reid.

Although his doctors in Mexico initially thought that he would be a paraplegic, Jan walks with a cane today; his left leg swings almost uselessly with each step. His speech is impaired. He has to use a catheter to urinate, which causes urinary tract infections on a regular basis.

He has been in the hospital a half-dozen times since the shooting, sometimes for dangerous blood infections that are a continuous result of the shooting. He has limited feeling in his legs and feet; once his foot was bleeding and he didn’t even realize it. He wound up being rushed to the hospital where a chunk of his foot was removed. About five or six years ago, he had a spinal cord stimulator implanted that has helped reduce the intense pain he used to feel in his legs. Although he can still have sex, he said, “it’s not like it used to be.” He flashed me a regretful smile.

As Jan recounted his life since that fateful day 15 years ago, he sat on his couch. Sometimes he leaned forward. Other times he sat back. He never seemed comfortable. He told me that if he stands up too long, it begins to hurt. If he sits too long it hurts. Sometimes, in the middle of the night, the pain wakes him up. Whenever he has the slightest fever, fierce pain shoots through his leg. “It feels like a firecracker just above my left knee,” he said.

Yet, for all his physical pain, when a hospital psychologist asked him early on what his biggest fear was, he said, “that this is going to destroy my marriage.”

It didn’t, but it could have. Before the spinal cord stimulator was implanted, Jan’s pain was affecting not just him but those who loved him. He snapped at people and suffered from depression. Nobody felt it more than his wife, Dorothy Browne. In some ways, she is the hero of this story: she was by his side in the months after he was shot, doing all the things he couldn’t do, while refusing to let Jan feel sorry for himself.

But after things settled down, she grew angry. Not because he had gone to Mexico, or had stupidly thrown a punch at a man with a gun. “I was just angry that he was never going to be the same again,” she said. She missed the things they used to do together but no longer could: explore the rain forest, travel in the Andes, rock climb in Greece. She finally sought counseling, which helped. “I’m not angry anymore,” she said, “but I’m regretful. I’m regretful when I hear him in the middle of the night, knowing he is in pain.”

For everything he has gone through, Jan Reid considers himself lucky. He can still work. Indeed, last year, a much-praised biography he wrote of Ann Richards, the former Texas governor, was published. He has his wife and his friends and his life. He has figured out how to cope with his injury and his pain. He can walk.

Which, sadly, is something Ashley Moser can never say.

And now here’s Ms. Collins:

Right now you’re probably asking yourself: What would I do if I had $27 billion to toss around?

Michael Bloomberg has to ask himself that question every day, people. He has a dual identity, like an action hero. By day, he’s the mayor of New York City. By night — well, actually, all the time, but stick with my metaphor — he unleashes his special power. If we lived in “The Avengers,” Bloomberg would be Money Man. The Incredible Hulk turns green; Bloomberg would just shower it. The crowds racing to catch the falling $100 bills would knock down his enemies, crushing them in the stampede.

All of which brings us to Mayors Against Illegal Guns. This is an organization of many mayors, but only one of them ever gets talked about because only one of them has enough money to buy Wyoming.

The Mayors/Bloomberg are currently seeking revenge against the four Democratic senators who voted against a gun regulation bill earlier this year. Some gun control advocates regard this as a disastrous example of tone-deaf politics: the war on Big Gulps writ large.

Recently, Bloomberg ponied up $350,000 to run ads in Arkansas, castigating Senator Mark Pryor for opposing the bill, which would have expanded background checks for gun purchases. The ads made Democratic leaders furious because Pryor has a very tough re-election race coming up in a year that is chock-full of difficult contests for their party. They’re having trouble just finding people to run for some of the seats being vacated by Democratic senators. (Really, public-spirited citizen, if you have nothing else to do for the next couple of years, consider moving to West Virginia, registering as a Democrat and running for the United States Senate. There’s an opening.)

Then, this week, Bloomberg wrote to the thousand biggest Democratic donors in New York and told them not to give the same senators any money. “I want to tell people what these four stand for,” he told Nicholas Confessore and Jeremy Peters in The Times.

The Democratic leaders are privately double-furious. (Not publicly because they do not want to be squashed by a mob of people chasing floating $100 bills.) They argue, with absolute accuracy, that if the Democrats lose control of the Senate in 2014, there will be no gun bill to vote for, because Mitch McConnell, as majority leader, would never allow one to get to the floor.

And what’s the point? The two senators in question who are up for re-election — Pryor and Mark Begich of Alaska — are going to be opposed by Republicans who are even more averse to weapons regulation. Right now it looks as if Begich’s opponent will be Joe Miller, a Tea Party stalwart who would be an improvement only to people who believe that the one thing this country needs is to bring back Sarah Palin.

There’s one really good argument on Bloomberg’s side. Maybe the only way to get serious gun reforms passed in Congress is to convince our elected officials that people who believe in reasonable gun control are as insane as the forces of the National Rifle Association.

Gun control is the classic example of an intensity-of-preference issue. Most people support it, but not enough to hinge their vote on it. Suppose you are a member of Congress and you knew that 60 percent of the people in your district favored improved background checks on gun purchases, but not in an obsessive way. Forty percent opposed them and — most important — 20 percent will hate you forever if you thwart their will. They won’t care if you vote to open a prison camp for puppies as long as you go their way on guns. You could leave your wife, beat your children and starve the family hamster to death, and they will still vote for you as long as you’re O.K. on the Second Amendment. The political path is obvious.

Bloomberg leaves his mayor’s job at the end of this year, and everyone in politics is thrilled/terrified to see what he’ll do next. The possibilities, in a world where the Supreme Court has pretty much lifted any barriers on what rich people can spend on elections, are endless. (Except for running for president. New York City mayors make terrible presidential candidates. You might think they look appealing, but remember Rudy Giuliani. And Bloomberg wasn’t all that adorable to begin with.)

If you were ranked the seventh wealthiest man in America by Forbes magazine, what would you do? Bloomberg has had lots of causes — from health research to education, to helping the environment by abolishing taxis that tall people can fit in. And then there’s gun control, which he thinks he can win on even if the short-term results of his efforts are a 2014 U.S. Senate that hates the concept entirely.

Well, it’s a complicated world to be heroic in. Just ask The Incredible Hulk.


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