I am baffled, befuddled and bewildered. Pretty soon I will also be bald if President Obama continues leaving me scratching my head.
In the news conference following his party’s devastating defeat last month, he told the American people: “I hear you.”
The message couldn’t have been clearer: Work with Republicans to address the uber-issue of our times, the weak economy. Leading Democratic Sen. Charles Schumer said as much when he recently criticized his party for focusing on health care instead of jobs after its sweeping gains in 2008.
Instead, Obama chose “ confrontation over conciliation,” as the New York Times put it, proclaiming a set of sweeping unilateral executive actions on illegal immigration. Rather than making it easier to find common ground on policies that might increase employment and incomes, he opted to poison the well through broad action on an issue that is important, but secondary, to most Americans. As a result his approval ratings have dropped even further.
In the prime time address describing his orders – the centerpiece of which defers deportation of some 5 million individuals, about 155,000 of whom live in North Carolina – the president claimed, “The actions I’m taking are not only lawful, they’re the kinds of actions taken by every single Republican president and every Democrat president for the past half-century,”
I don’t know whether his actions are lawful – and anybody who tells you they absolutely are or are not is a partisan hack. There are compelling arguments on both sides; though, as a practical matter, few executive orders are challenged in court and even fewer have been struck down.
What is clear is that Obama’s supporters are trying to mislead the public when they claim Presidents Reagan and George H.W. Bush took similar actions on immigration. In fact, their popular efforts aimed to carry out the will of Congress, not to thwart it.
It is also clear that Obama has repeatedly stated that he does not possess the authority he just exercised. In 2011, he told the Spanish language network Univision, “With respect to the notion that I can just suspend deportations through executive order, that’s just not the case, because there are laws on the books that Congress has passed.”
Instead of addressing and resolving this blatant contradiction – admittedly it is harder to say you’ve “evolved” on the separation of powers than gay marriage – Obama chose brazen denial.
“Actually, my position hasn’t changed,” he told reporters. “When I was talking to the advocates, their interest was in me, through executive action, duplicating the legislation that was stalled in Congress.” The Pulitzer Prize-winning fact-checking website Politifact rated this claim “false.”
Nevertheless, a charitable person might forgive the politically incendiary nature of his actions if they went a long way toward fixing our broken immigration system. They do not.
The White House argues that his actions will remove the fear of deportation for millions, bringing them “out of the shadows.” But given the temporary nature of his executive order – it could be undone in a moment by the next president – how many people will be willing to officially identify themselves on such a weak promise?
It is worth noting that only about 55 percent of eligible “Dreamers” have sought protection under Obama’s less controversial 2012 executive order deferring deportation of children brought here illegally.
The White House also claims that Obama’s actions will improve the economy and expand the tax base. In the short run it will, as more individuals pay into the system. In the long run it will make our dire fiscal situation even worse. Illegal immigrants are already lowering wages and employment opportunities for American workers, especially the 25 million who lack a high school diploma. And, under our current tax system, where more than 60 percent of Americans receive more government assistance than they pay in taxes, these newcomers will put new strains on our broken governments when they qualify (and they will) for programs.
Ultimately, his actions will probably make life harder for illegal immigrants. In truth, there were no plans to deport en masse the 5 million people Obama has decided not to deport, much less the 6 million other illegal immigrants not covered by his action.
The petulant partisanship that led him to issue these relatively ineffective executive orders will only make it harder to craft the comprehensive immigration legislation we need to address the millions who are here, and the millions more waiting to come. Even as Obama taunts the GOP to “pass a bill,” does anybody believe his implicit promise to sign it?
He has sown more division without accomplishing much of anything.
Scratch. Scratch. Scratch.
Contributing columnist J. Peder Zane can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.