But a major gun control victory for Obama — awarded an “F” by the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence after signing 2009 legislation permitting people to carry concealed weapons in national parks — would be the first significant abrogation of American rights in our history.
Prohibition does not count; the 18th amendment did not curtail what had been a constitutionally protected right. Limiting gun rights, as NRA members argue, would do so.
Obama’s higher status would reflect his success in redeeming long-sought liberal measures. Though he would have only a few legislative achievements to his credit — plus nudging same-sex marriage toward the mainstream — the decades-long resistance to his initiatives would give them special standing.
Most of Roosevelt’s accomplishments, which include the Civilian Conservation Corps, the Agricultural Adjustment Act, the Wagner Act, the Works Progress Administration and others, were emergency responses to the Great Depression, not measures longed for by liberals for decades. Obama’s health care overhaul is arguably as profound an element of the American social contract as FDR’s Social Security Act of 1935 (and LBJ’s Medicare legislation of 1965). Roosevelt’s legislation creating the National Recovery Administration was struck down by the Supreme Court, while Obama’s health care legislation was upheld.
By the same token, many of Johnson’s Great Society initiatives grew out a sense that a nation as prosperous as mid-1960s America ought to share its bounty with the aged, hungry, poor and striving. Indeed, aside from civil rights, most of the Great Society projects were quickly conceived, not long-thwarted.
Obama has stirred bitter opposition from conservatives and bitter disappointment from liberals. Though conservatives believe he personifies unbounded liberalism, many of his putative allies believe he hasn’t pushed hard or far enough. If a major gun control measure is signed into law, history will argue otherwise.
North Shore native and Pulitzer Prize winner David M. Shribman is executive editor of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.