President Obama’s immigration address was profoundly moving and deeply cynical. Obama spoke of the plight of illegal immigrants who struggle in the shadows to build a better life for their kids and of his desire to “work with both parties” to find a solution. If Obama really believed a single word of that, he would not have taken unconstitutional executive action that he knows will kill any chances for reform.
Obama is not acting to help illegal immigrants. He is acting to provoke the GOP. The giveaway moment in Obama’s address was when he told Republicans that “Americans are tired of gridlock” and urged them not to “let a disagreement over a single issue be a deal breaker on every issue. That’s not how our democracy works, and Congress certainly shouldn’t shut down our government again just because we disagree on this.”
That is exactly what Obama is hoping Republicans will do. His whole speech was a calculated effort to elicit a self-destructive response from the GOP. Obama wants Republicans to shut down the government. He wants them to introduce articles of impeachment. He wants them to rail against illegal immigrants — to declare, as Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) did, that his actions will result in “millions of unskilled, illiterate, foreign nationals coming into the United States who can’t speak the English language.”
That’s music to Obama’s ears.
Obama’s actions are transparently provocative — so transparent, in fact, that the major networks refused to air his prime-time address live because, as one network source put it, “There was agreement among the broadcast networks that this was overtly political.”
Even the mainstream media see through Obama’s charade.
The sad part is, if Obama had delivered the same address, minus the executive action, it would have been one of the most powerful and effective speeches of his presidency. While a plurality of Americans oppose Obama’s executive order, 74 percent say illegal immigrants should be given a pathway to citizenship as long as they pay fines and back taxes and pass a security check. Had Obama used the exact same language not to announce unilateral action, but to call on Republicans to join him in bipartisan action in Congress, he would have a supermajority of Americans backing him.
But Obama is not interested in winning Republican votes in Congress. He’s interested in using immigration to drive voters away from Republicans.
Obama may succeed in that goal, but he has killed any chance of passing immigration reform. Think about it: If you’re a pro-immigration reform Republican, Obama’s actions have weakened you — because there’s not a chance in hell that you will persuade your colleagues to reward Obama’s unconstitutional power grab. If you’re an anti-immigration reform Republican, Obama has strengthened you — because you can now rail against executive amnesty, while allowing Republicans on the fence to justify inaction by saying they are not opposed to reform, just to Obama’s lawlessness.
Obama knew this would be the impact of his executive order, but he issued it anyway. It’s clear that he wants the issue more than he wants reform. If Obama really cared about passing comprehensive reform, he would have done it in his first two years in office, when his party controlled both houses of Congress and even had a 60-vote majority in the Senate for much of that period. He could have passed anything he wanted. But immigration reform was not a priority.
It’s a priority now because he’s trying to goad the new Republican majority into committing political suicide, while alienating itself from Hispanic voters with whom it made inroads during the 2014 midterm elections. It’s no coincidence that Obama chose to deliver his address on the night of the Latin Grammys, which last year reached almost 10 million viewers. Univision postponed the start of the awards show to broadcast Obama’s speech.
In his address, Obama said “We need more than politics as usual when it comes to immigration.” He’s right. But wrapping yourself in the heartbreaking stories of immigrants living in the shadows, while undermining legislation that would bring them out of the shadows, isn’t politics as usual. It’s a new and unprecedented level of cynicism, from a president who apparently cares more about gaining political advantage than governing.