Why is he doing it?
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If I heard that question once, I heard it a thousand times. Why is Barack Obama risking poisoning the political well by unilaterally cancelling deportations for potentially millions of illegals?
Leaving aside his argument that he’s tried to work with Republicans on this immigration issue and gotten nowhere, why this action now? Why do something he knows will make the other side furious and jeopardize whatever consequential legislation they could have worked on together these next two years?
Maybe, just maybe, because the President already thinks he’s consequential enough? He’s already “historic” enough. He’s long past being “significant” enough. And nothing that happens or doesn’t happen in these final two years of his presidency will alter the unprecedented nature of his presidency.
There might be something to this seeming egomaniacal notion, if you step back and think about it. Barack Obama’s very election to the Presidency was historic in and of itself. His signature piece of legislation, health care – flawed as it is – is the biggest federal initiative to date. And in dollar terms alone dwarfs the early moneys spent on Social Security under Franklin Roosevelt, and Medicare under Lyndon Johnson.
President Obama is every bit as consequential a big spender as either of those Democratic presidents. And just like those big government boosters, try undoing their biggest government boosts! Let’s just say, easier said than done.
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This President can argue as well – and has – that he inherited a financial mess. Markets were melting down, housing was melting down, and the economy itself was melting down. How many times has the President happily pointed that out and stressed that while things aren’t storming back, America is off its back?
Economists can and often do disagree. They point out what recovery we’ve had has been weak, and the jobs won back have been low-paying. My point here isn’t to revisit history, but to get inside the head of a President who clearly believes he doesn’t have to do anything historic. I’ve talked to many in and outside the White House who argue, “been there, done that.”
I think Republicans, and the media, miss this dogma in Democratic thinking, in trying to discern why the President willfully, even eagerly, sticks a post-mid-term olive branch in the other party’s eye. I suppose, it’s partly out of delight, and partly out of spite. After all, Democrats say the President’s still smarting from “trying” to compromise with Republicans in years past, when the opposition party wasn’t doing so well, and got little for it. Republicans quickly differ by saying the President never really gave them the chance, or after all those closed-door health-care meetings, so much as a voice.
They’re furious because midterm rout or no, things are still the same. And once again, the President is off on his own. He is -- convinced that even if he doesn’t get his way on everything, he’ll make himself a Woodrow Wilson and provide the “vision thing.” Remember that it was our 28th President who tried and failed to establish a League of Nations – a precursor to today’s United Nations, and was rebuffed by a Congress that didn’t see the need, and even war-torn Democrats who didn’t see the value.
John Kennedy famously pushed for tax cuts that proved an anathema to liberals during his Presidency, and was repeatedly stopped by Democrats, no matter how hard he tried to convince them otherwise. Ironically, it would be his successor Lyndon Johnson, who helped get those tax cuts through – and provide the very economic boost JFK predicted they would. It was like the world caught up to Kennedy’s vision, long after he had died.
Perhaps in some deeply depressing way, this is the “sad hero” tact President Obama is taking – pushing issues that might not be popular now, but might prove visionary, if not profound, years from now.
Think about it – there’s actually been a pattern to it. Whether coming out strongly for gay rights and gay marriage when few saw much political upside, to challenging a Keystone pipeline, where critics saw only downside, the President has charted decidedly unfriendly courses that he and other White House staffers firmly believed then and believe now, will be proven prescient and just years from now.
That’s hard to say, and even harder to prove. But it could explain a President who feels no inclination to so much as slightly bend. Yes, even in the face of a midterm drubbing that should have humbled him and made him rethink his political priorities, the President has only doubled down on those priorities. Rather than negotiate with Republicans on lasting immigration reform, he’s pushing this my-way-or-the-highway deportation executive order that all but wipes out any immigration reform.
Ditto energy policy – even in the face of a Republican Senate that will send a bill with overwhelming support, demanding Keystone be started, count on the President to reject every entreaty. Whether that means Barack Obama is more a slave to environmentalists than the broader Democratic base that wants the Keystone jobs, the President clearly isn’t hiding his progressive stripes. Far from holding back, he’s going full throttle.
Even those in his own party say they’re surprised by his stance, and have urged he take a cue from his more pragmatic Democratic predecessor Bill Clinton. But that was a different time, and clearly Clinton was a different president. Remember as well that Clinton “had” to move to the right, because he faced the prospect of being a one-term President if he didn’t.
This President has no such concerns. He’s got his two terms, even if in the last two years, he won’t have much to show for it. What matters to this White House isn’t new watered down legislation with a Republican Party it simply cannot stand, but standing for something they argue is far bigger whether the other side likes it or not.
Consider this my knee-jerk amateur psychologist attempt to understand a President who won’t budge, and this week has proven weirdly delighted in all but setting a match to our nation’s Capital. Because for “No Drama Obama,” this isn’t about the drama of the moment, but seeing the consequential forest for the trees.
He firmly believes, as do his people, that he’s already made history, and those who challenge him on silly day-to-day matters of state and legislation, will soon “be” history. It’s his political prescience that will win out, I suppose his folks suspect, and that his indifference today will prove the precedent-shattering difference tomorrow.
It’s a stretch…but how else would you explain a President all but deciding to make his last two years in office…a waste? Maybe because he figures we don’t figure. But divine providence, will.