"Then what happens" is a classic program-planning technique. If we do X, then what happens and then, after that, what happens?
Combined with Murphy's law of the universe ("Whatever can go wrong, will go wrong"), the then-what-happens question is a power tool for achieving goals and avoiding bad stuff. As with all power tools, however, one can amputate a limb with clumsy application.
Gun control is about as complex and emotional as an issue gets. The complexity makes it an ideal candidate for a then-what-happens analysis, particularly in the political arena. The emotionalism tends to skew the logic.
In the last few weeks, Democrats have publicly applied the technique and used their findings to comfort themselves and assure supporters. Are they are on to something or just severing arms and legs?
Prevailing Democratic wisdom is the Republicans are playing the fool. With a huge majority of the American people favoring universal background checks as well as controls on the sale of semi-automatic weapons and paraphernalia, Republicans worked openly and successfully to ensure none of it came to a vote.
The Democrats are using every opportunity to ensure the American people are aware of this Republican "treachery." They are practically giddy with their then-what-happens analysis: If you blatantly defy the wishes of 90 percent of the American people then you lose the next election.
Superficially, the conclusion appears reasonable, but the rationale is demonstrably inane. They should know better.
On election night just six months ago, Republicans — notably Karl Rove and Dick Morris — applied similar egg-on-your-face logic in front of the whole country on live television. From national polling data, they emphatically championed their prediction Mitt Romney would win in a rout even as reality was overwhelming them.
Now the Democrats are reveling in the belief national polling data predict the results of 33 state elections (Senate seats) and 435 district elections (House seats) a year and a half from now. (Note: Two of the House seats and one of the Senate seats up for grabs belong to the people of New Hampshire.)
Nate Silver — political statistician par excellence — correctly predicted the outcome of every presidential contest in 2012. He did so by analyzing poll data state by state. He says, "Punditry is fundamentally useless." As long as "expert opinion" is an expression of preference supported by sophomoric assessment and cherry-picked data, he is probably right.
Democrats might want to reframe their then-what-happens query. Something like this may capture a semblance of reality:
— If the country is gerrymandered to your disadvantage;
— If corporate wealth is arrayed against you;
— If historic patterns — the party in the White House loses seats in a midterm — belie your aspirations;
— If voter suppression laws continue to proliferate (NH has one); and
— If apathy endures among non-cause voters in an off-year election;
— Then, what happens?
Gerrymandering is fait accompli and set for the next decade. Corporations are not about to support initiatives designed to suppress sales. Historical precedence is as it is. That leaves suppression and apathy, problems amenable to local toil, not national dancing.
William Shakespeare summarized it nicely. In the Taming of the Shrew, he wrote, "He that is giddy thinks the world turns round"; in the Tragedy of Coriolanus, "Action is eloquence."