People often call me an idealist. My friends, family and teachers have grown accustomed to my sometimes overly optimistic views on what American politics represent. Although these views may seem romantic at times, anyone who knows me understands my passion for politics and aspiration to play a role in U.S. policy. And yet, the older I get and the more I see our republic at work, the more disgusted I become with what our once-great political system has become.
Wednesday, our Senate decided to overlook 90 percent of the American electorate. Our Senate decided that the campaign contributions of a select few were more important than what the people who elected them wanted. And most importantly, our Senate decided that the lives of 20 innocent children and six teachers from Newtown, Conn., 12 moviegoers from Aurora, Col., 32 college students from Virginia Tech University and the thousands of other gun victims slain every year throughout the United States were less important than gaining the support of the National Rifle Association.
Amid shouts of “Shame on you!” in the Senate Chamber by parents of gun victims, the Senate failed to pass a bill on Wednesday that would enhance background checks for gun buyers. Falling short of the necessary 60 votes that would overcome a filibuster, the Senate voted 54 to 46 and failed to pass a bill supported by nearly 90 percent of Americans including 50 percent of gun owners, according to a recent Washington Post-ABC News poll.
On Feb. 14, I wrote a column about gun control and the regulations needed to help prevent similar atrocities in the future. Written roughly one month after the Newtown shooting, my column spoke of how disappointed I was that only two of the four core elements of President Barack Obama’s gun-control agenda would likely be passed by our divided legislature. I realized that seemingly logical regulations, such as banning high-capacity ammunition magazines and restricting the sale of assault rifles, simply wouldn’t be passed in an era where the NRA and other donors make or break politicians. But within my previous column, I simply assumed that the other two elements of Obama’s gun-control agenda — universal background checks and investigating the link between mental disorders and gun violence — could pass with bipartisan support.
There I was, a few months younger and apparently brimming with naïveté, writing that article with confidence that our political system would pass much needed and widely supported legislation to mandate background checks. How foolish of me to think that our politicians would actually do their jobs and not only listen to the overwhelming voice of their constituents, but also pass some form of legislation that would ensure that the Sandy Hook Elementary victims wouldn’t die in vain.
But here I am, a few months older and bitterer, coming to grips with the fact that our political system has once again failed the American people. Although I’m normally the first to blame the Republican Party for any wrongdoing in Washington D.C., this colossal disappointment was created with bipartisan support. Six Democrats, including Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, voted against the background check bill cosponsored by Senators Joe Manchin (D-W. Va.) and Pat Toomey (R-Pa.). Worth mentioning are the four Republicans who bravely broke party line and joined the 50 Democrats who supported the bill. Their efforts to “cross the aisle” in order to pass a much-needed bill, although laudable, were eventually futile.
Obama summed up my feelings appropriately with his reaction to the Senate vote. With Gabby Giffords, the former Arizona congresswoman who survived a shooting attempt in 2011, standing behind him along with parents of slain victims from Newtown, Aurora and Virginia Tech, Obama bluntly uttered, “All in all, this is a pretty shameful day for Washington.”
Shameful is an understatement. The deaths of more than 30,000 Americans caused by guns each year and our government’s ability to time and again ignore any opportunity toward reversing this number is beyond the scope of a single word.
Maybe I’m just growing up and realizing that the world doesn’t necessarily work how it should. Perhaps my optimistic views will continue to dwindle in the coming years. All I know is that while I watch our political system at work and witness its inability to govern, it’s becoming increasingly difficult to be a starry-eyed idealist.
Patrick Maillet can be reached at email@example.com.