The root of Operation Fast and Furious is gun control. And the root of Barack Obama’s obsession with gun control is not typical left-wing politics, but the burning memory of the only political defeat in his career: his failed primary challenge against incumbent Rep. Bobby Rush (D-IL) in 2000, when Obama’s hypocrisy on gun control legislation earned him the outrage and ridicule of the Chicago media, and sealed his electoral defeat.
Then-state senator Obama had backed a bipartisan bill called the Safe Neighborhoods Act. It would have raised the crime of illegal transport of a firearm from a misdemeanor to a felony. But on the crucial day of the vote, Obama was out of town–and on vacation, in Hawaii. The bill failed by only three votes, and the media pounced–as did Obama’s rivals. It was the moment, Obama later said, when he knew he would lose the race.
Obama, not used to losing, was hurt badly by the experience, as he wrote in his second biography, The Audacity of Hope: “[I]t’s impossible not to feel at some level as if you have been personally repudiated by the entire community, that you don’t quite have what it takes, and that everywhere you go the word ‘loser’ is flashing through people’s minds. The scars had “sufficiently” healed, Obama wrote, only eighteen months later.
Those scars never fully healed–Obama was still smarting from the loss years later, after he had won election to the U.S. Senate. It had not just been a political loss, but a personal one: as Ed Klein notes in The Amateur, it was the 2000 defeat that brought Michelle Obama to the point of considering divorce. (Obama himself wrote in Audacity that she had stopped speaking to him at the time of his ill-timed Hawaii vacation.)
Obama said he learned from the experience–but what did he learn? He certainly did not learn to take fewer vacations. Nor did he learn about the importance of gun violence to the community in Chicago he represented. Shootings have been rampant in Chicago in the years since Obama left Hyde Park for the White House, and local leaders complain that President Obama has never used his bully pulpit to do anything about the problem.
What Obama learned was the importance of checking off the ideological boxes of the left and its allies in the mainstream media. That is why his administration launched Fast and Furious shortly after he took office, along with a slew of left-wing policy efforts (cap-and-trade, health care reform, the Israeli-Palestinian peace process). Fast and Furious was not made public, but the outlines of the operation were clear from the beginning.
Both President Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton made bold assertions in March 2009 that the drug war in Mexico was being fueled by guns purchased in the U.S. Internal Department of Justice memos–published by Sharyl Atkisson of CBS News in December 2011–reveal that officials discussed using Fast and Furious to push for stricter regulations over gun sales. In addition, Obama had already supported new gun rules on the campaign trail in 2008, and Attorney General Eric Holder had once spoken of his desire to “brainwash people into thinking about guns in a vastly different way.”
Obama and Holder, united in their dislike of guns, are now bound even more tightly by Fast and Furious. But Obama always had a motive beyond anti-gun ideology: the desire to erase his first defeat. His abuse of executive privilege will not prevent his second.