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Mike Littwin

"The pump don't work 'cause the vandals took the handles."

Littwin: Obama moves the ball on immigration, demands Congress pass a bill

Littwin: Obama moves the ball on immigration, demands Congress pass a bill

IF you watched the Obama immigration speech or even if you didn’t, it comes down to the same thing.

The speech was stirring. Or it was manipulative.

His words freed 5 million from the shadows. Or those same words were an attempt to obscure a dark power grab.

People will reliably make the same arguments whether they saw the speech or not. The one thing we we can agree on, after all, is that we don’t agree. This was either Obama doing the right thing, regardless of the cost, or Obama making good on an unkept political promise and letting the rest of us pay.

I hope you did see the speech. It was all there, 15 minutes of vintage Obama, old school Obama, a speech that reached heights without need of speech-writerly flourishes. It was plainly, yet eloquently, told. Too many Obama speeches leave you wondering whatever happened to Obama the orator. This time he showed up.

It’s the heart of Obama’s case: There are 11 million immigrants without documents and something must be done; leaving them in the shadows can’t be an option for Americans who believe in justice.

This was Obama, just weeks after Shellacking II, saying that he was still here. And not just saying. There was the matter, too, of the 5 million and, yes, of Obama’s bold decision to go it alone.

This was the stuff of high drama. Off stage, Republicans were calling for, well, something — censure or a shutdown or more lawsuits or Ted Cruz slyly playing it from the Senate floor as a Roman set piece in which Obama is seen overthrowing the Republic.

And yet, the TV networks didn’t see the need to show the speech, leaving our small-d democracy to the shoutfests on cable news. It was a pretty shocking decision given the stakes, and yet somehow not at all surprising, although some stations actually snubbed the networks and showed the speech anyway.

What no one can dispute is that these are the times in which we live, and that the Obama speech, whatever its merits, came too late to change much of that.

Obama did have a story to tell, though. He had several stories, in fact. He first countered the Republican brief against him. The border has never been more secure, he pointed out, and the fences never higher. Deportations were up, crossings down. The accusation that he’s inviting Latinos to cross the border — in what the Tancredistas call an invasion — amounts to nothing but talk.

And then there’s the matter of executive authority. He wasn’t the first or second or third president to use it as a tool in setting immigration policy. Reagan used it. Bush I used it. If Obama was working with larger numbers – and if Obama himself had questioned whether a president had the authority — Obama offered an easy answer. If Republicans objected, they had a way out: pass a bill. If it sounded like a dare, that’s because it was. He really did draw a line in the sand, and this time Republicans are furious.

To pass a bill, of course, Republicans would first have to craft a plan beyond, say, self-deportation. The Senate passed a bipartisan plan with 68 votes, but House Republicans were having none of it. But without a plan, someday a Republican president could be faced with overturning Obama’s orders, taking immigrant mothers from their citizen children, clinching the Latino vote for Democrats forevermore. Agreeing to a plan has to be an easier course than that.

Obama made a more interesting argument on amnesty. He said what we have now is amnesty — amnesty from the rule of law. He said the 11 million immigrants here want something different – a chance, as he put it, “to get right with the law.” He said that bringing people out of the shadows would make it tougher on the criminals and easier on the children.

“Are we a nation that tolerates the hypocrisy of a system where workers who pick our fruit and make our beds never have a chance to get right with the law?” Obama asked. “Or are we a nation that gives them a chance to make amends, take responsiblity, and give their kids a better future?”

This was at the heart of Obama’s case. There are 11 million immigrants without documents and something must be done. Leaving them in the shadows can’t be an option for Americans who believe in justice. If House Republicans wouldn’t even address the issue, he had no choice but to do what he could.

Polling shows that most Americans want this issue put behind them, even if it means – note to John Hickenlooper — a pathway to citizenship. Of course, the recent polling also shows that most object to Obama’s unilateral path.

For Obama, that was the point of the speech – reframing the argument from one of executive overreach to one of America’s sense of itself as a nation of immigrants. Obama quoted from the Book of Exodus on the immigrant: “Scripture tells us that we shall not oppress a stranger, for we know the heart of a stranger — we were strangers once, too.”

Did the speech change anyone’s mind? I don’t know. Once, long ago, in the early Obama years, it might have. But, in any case, the speech did tell the story of how presidential action would lead to 5 million changed lives, and at this point, that might have to be enough.

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About the Author

Mike Littwin

He has covered Dr. J, four presidential inaugurations, six national conventions and countless brain-numbing speeches in the New Hampshire and Iowa snow.
mlittwin@coloradoindependent.com | Twitter @mike_littwin

7 Comments

  1. John Matthias on said:

    This article hit all of the high points – well said. I was amused by how the networks said they would not carry the speech, but at least Fox and NBC carried it. How could this not be news? Another example of how our mainstream media is failing us (though they did come through this time). The other point is how media omits the word “temporarily” when they report that the reprieve that undocumented immigrants won’t be deported. It’s not permanent, and “amnesty” is vastly overstating what it is. Sadly, it’s not just Fox that mis-states this.

  2. Don Lopez on said:

    Considering this kissy-face paean to President Obama’s executive actions on immigration it’s hard to believe that just three days earlier Mr. Littwin had characterized these very same executive actions as “an overreach” and “a step too great”.

    Of course, Mr. Littwin isn’t alone in his confusion over executive actions, so is President Obama whose flip-flop on the subject has to be considered epic. This from Politifact:

    (President Obama) was asked about his immigration plan during his trip to Australia for the G20 Summit on Nov. 16.

    Jim Avila of ABC asked, “In 2010, when asked by immigration reform advocates to stop deportations and act alone on providing legal status for the undocumented, you said, ‘I’m president, I’m not king. I can’t do these things just by myself.’ In 2013, you said, ‘I’m not the emperor of the United States. My job is to execute laws that are passed.’ Mr. President, what has changed since then?”

    Obama replied: “Well, actually, my position hasn’t changed. When I was talking to the advocates, their interest was in me, through executive action, duplicating the legislation that was stalled in Congress. And getting a comprehensive deal of the sort that is in the Senate legislation, for example, does extend beyond my legal authorities. There are certain things I cannot do. There are certain limits to what falls within the realm of prosecutorial discretion in terms of how we apply existing immigration laws.”

    No conflict there. Move along.

    Mr. Littwin doesn’t bother with elaborate and mind-numbing explanations/excuses, he simply avoids, deflects or ignores his numerous, well, internal conflicts.

    Here’s the way Mr. Littwin sees this playing out:

    “The Senate passed a bipartisan plan with 68 votes, but House Republicans were having none of it. But without a plan, someday a Republican president could be faced with overturning Obama’s orders, taking immigrant mothers from their citizen children, clinching the Latino vote for Democrats forevermore. Agreeing to a plan has to be an easier course than that.”

    What if President Obama’s executive action becomes more unpopular than ObamaCare? What if it becomes incendiary? Considering his demand that Congress pass a bill can he now afford to continually veto immigration legislation from the Republican-controlled Congress? Will Obama feel pressure to sign immigration legislature that could make the Senate bill seem mild by comparison?

    Will Mr. Littwin turn out to be wrong?Just kidding, that could never happen.

    If the (Senate) filibuster is gone — or mostly gone — that’s a good thing. It’s a good thing if it’s bad for Republicans. It’s a good thing if it’s bad for Democrats. Either way, it’s still good for good government. – Mike Littwin

    “And basically, call it the stupidity of the American voter or whatever, but basically that (lack of transparency) was really really critical for (Obamacare) to pass…” Jonathan Gruber, Obamacare architect

    Wounded Warrior Project
    Memorial Day – May 25, 2015

  3. Turgot on said:

    Has it dawned on you at all that Obama’s plan requires those 5 million to self-identify to the legal authorities all the information that is precisely needed to perform a mass deportation? And to do all that based of an unpopular and temporary fiat?

    It has in the immigrant community.

  4. ryecatcher on said:

    Mr Lopez attempts to spin his monotonous tale with the usual twaddling wing nut lament does indeed go from a flip to a complete flop. It’s become a repetitive tactic of Lopezcons to dodge, weave and rope the dopes most of whom are followers of the Lopez line.

    No conflict here. Just Mr Lopez’s inner conflicts with mind numbing explanations and excuses. Move along folks.

  5. Don Lopez on said:

    Hey Elsie,

    Why did you wait six days to respond?

    Oh no, you weren’t in rehab again! Were you?

  6. ryecatcher on said:

    You’re slipping a touch. Such an adolescent comment. It appears you’re losing your cool something you desperately want to exude but fail in your attempts to impress.

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