Thursday, November 20, 2014

A Little Audacity Goes A Long Way: Immigration Reform and the Folly of Bipartisanship

David Brooks and other delusional stalwarts of the pundit class continue to believe that the Republican Party cares about governing and is capable of compromise.  Ignoring GOP efforts since the dawn of the Obama Administration to thwart every moderate proposal supported by the White House, they are excoriating the President for finally eschewing attempts at illusory bipartisanship for the sake of having a direct, positive impact on millions of people.

President Obama's executive order will allow "four million undocumented immigrants who have lived in the United States for at least five years to apply for a program that protects them from deportation and allows those with no criminal record to work legally in the country."  Another "one million people will get protection from deportation through other parts of the president’s plan to overhaul the nation’s immigration enforcement system, including the expansion of an existing program for “Dreamers,” young immigrants who came to the United States as children."  (Of course, it wouldn't be an Obama plan without some compromise -- so, farm workers won't receive special protection and there will be no federal subsidies for health care.)

The predictable response, not just from the rabid right, but from the pointless middle, is outrage and disappointment that Obama won't give Republicans a chance to act decently.  According to Brooks, "White House officials are often misinformed on what Republicans are privately discussing, so they don’t understand that many in the Republican Party are trying to find a way to get immigration reform out of the way."  Sure.

Remarkably, neither he nor anyone else seems to recall that a bipartisan immigration bill overwhelmingly passed the Senate in the summer of 2013.  It was scuttled in the House, where the Speaker refused to bring it up for a vote, knowing that the nativists in his Party would reject it because of its provision of a path to citizenship.  Although, according to David Brooks, this was really because they were working on their own secret plan. 

Notwithstanding that prior presidents acted unilaterally on immigration (including Reagan and both Bushes), and that Obama's executive order has been sanctioned by conservative legal scholars, Republicans are now threatening to either shut down the government or initiate impeachment proceedings over Obama's move. At minimum, according to Brooks, "Republicans would rightly take it as a calculated insult and yet more political ineptitude. Everybody would go into warfare mode. We’ll get two more years of dysfunction that will further arouse public disgust and antigovernment fervor." 

Thus, the groundwork has been laid to further blame Obama and the Democrats for gridlock despite the unprecedented recalcitrance of the Republicans who -- according to Brooks and others -- are ready to make nice, roll up their sleeves and govern responsibly if only Obama would meet them half way.  So, in addition to that secret immigration plan that Republicans have been working on that surely would have helped millions of immigrants remain in this country, they are also working on a secret health care plan that could replace Obamacare after they repeal it and provide tens of millions with health care as Obamacare has done.  And, they must also have a secret plan to combat climate change all teed up, as soon as they approve the Keystone XL pipeline and thwart the historic pact over carbon emissions that Obama made with China.

President Obama is going to have to tamp down his instincts towards compromise and moderation these next two years while Republicans block judicial and administrative nominations, attempt to deregulate Wall Street and the EPA, and pass unconscionable bills aimed at gutting the safety net and getting the government out of the way of Big Business.  This will be increasingly difficult in the face of cries from the mainstream media (and moderate Democrats) who believe that bipartisanship is a worthy end in itself.  But what is worthy is ensuring that 5 million immigrants will not be deported and separated from their families and their homes; that at least 10 million people have health insurance that they did not have before; that carbon emissions are reduced.  Given the extremist state of the Republican Party none of this could happen by compromise -- it could only happen by exercising a little audacity.


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