One would have to travel back to the 1950s, to a time when schools and water fountains were racially segregated, and Southern politicians fought to keep them so, to find Arkansas's two senators joined together in a more shameful vote than that of Mark Pryor and John Boozman on gun control.
Like virtually all Southern senators of their day, Arkansas's John McClellan and J. William Fulbright supported filibusters to keep civil rights bills off the floor. Segregationists didn't just want these bills defeated, they wanted them not even discussed, much less voted on. It was democracy turned upside down; anything was justified that might slow the advance of racial equality.
Pryor and Boozman struck the same attitude on gun control, but the Pryor-Boozman entente is even more noteworthy in a way. McClellan and Fulbright were both Democrats, at a time when Southern Democrats in Washington were a generally sorry though unified lot. Boozman and Pryor are ostensibly members of different parties, at a juncture when partisan differences have never been sharper, and Republicans have taken sorriness to a new low. But timidity is bipartisan, and Pryor and Boozman cowered shoulder-to-shoulder in opposing mere debate of modest gun-control legislation, deaf to the appeals of the families of the 20 first-graders murdered in Newtown, Conn., last December. Pryor was one of only two Democrats who supported the filibuster. He managed to stoop lower than 16 Republicans even. One of those 16, Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, told interviewers he was appalled by the pro-filibuster votes in the Senate. He's opposed to the gun-control bill himself, he said, but he couldn't look at himself in the mirror if he voted to prevent debate on it. Most other senators agreed. The filibuster was ended.
Both the Democratic Pryor and the Republican Boozman chose the NRA over the families of Newtown. The families can have more children, after all, but Pryor and Boozman might not have more Senate terms if they disobey the NRA, or so they believe. Pryor feels the threat most keenly. He's up for re-election next year, and he saw what happened to his former colleague, Blanche Lincoln, when she cast a correct but controversial vote for the Obama health care plan last year. Lincoln was turned out of the Senate, the undistinguished Boozman allowed in. And Lincoln's overall voting record was very similar to Pryor's.
Whatever her shortcomings, Blanche Lincoln was a better senator than the man she lost to, far better. Even Mike Ross, the flawed former representative of the Fourth Congressional District, looks better now that we've seen his Koch Brothers-owned successor. Perhaps the saddest part of this gun-control vote is that everyone knows Pryor will be preferable to whomever teabag Republicans choose to run against him. Moderates will have no choice but to vote for Pryor. They will be deeply embarrassed.