Monday, June 18, 2012

Obama's leadership, Romney's dithering: The policy and politics of the DREAM Act

Maybe he's just waiting to see which way the wind blows, or maybe he's just not sure how to respond to President Obama's decisive move on immigration, one that effectively backs him into a corner from which there is no easy escape, but, whatever the case, Romney is dithering in a way that makes it look like he knows he's screwed:

Mitt Romney refuses to say whether he'd repeal the Obama administration's decision to stop deporting certain undocumented immigrants.

In an interview with Bob Schieffer aired Sunday on CBS's "Face the Nation," the presumptive Republican presidential nominee five different times declined to answer whether he would conduct the same policy President Barack Obama on Friday announced his Department of Homeland Security will now pursue.

Instead of answering the question posed, Romney called for a permanent solution.

"With regards to these kids who were brought in by their parents through no fault of their own, there needs to be a long-term solution so they know what their status is," Romney said. "This is something Congress has been working on, and I thought we were about to see some proposals brought forward by Sen. Marco Rubio and by Democrat senators, but the president jumped in and said I'm going to take this action, he called it a stop-gap measure. I don't know why he feels stop-gap measures are the right way to go."

After Schieffer asked, directly, four additional times if Romney would repeal the policy without receiving an answer, Romney called the move political.

"I think the timing is pretty clear, if he really wanted to make a solution that dealt with these kids or with illegal immigration in America, than this is something he would have taken up in his first three and a half years, not in his last few months," he said.

No... political? A politician doing something political? Huh.

This is what politicians often say when they really have nothing of substance to say, when they want to criticize something but can't actually find anything of substance to criticize -- that is to say, they go after the process and scream politics, as if that somehow means the something in question loses all its validity simply by virtue of being... political.

Is President Obama's executive action to allow undocumented immigrants who came to the U.S. as children, have lived in the U.S. for at least five years, and are in school, are high school graduates, or are military veterans to stay in the country legally, halting deportations of such people, political? Yes, but only in the sense that everything the president does, anything any politician does, is political. And, by the way, it's also the right thing to do.

Should President Obama have done this earlier? Maybe, but it's not like he hasn't been doing anything else the past three and a half years, and, what's more, this isn't new. Democrats introduced the DREAM Act, which is essentially that this is, was first introduced in the House in April 2001. After various attempts to get it moving, it was introduced in the Senate in October 2007, with two Republican co-sponsors (two Republicans no longer there, Chuck Hagel and Richard Lugar), and then re-introduced in March 2009, again with Republican co-sponsors (this time Lugar and Mel Martinez). It was passed in the House in December 2010 but failed in the Senate, where Republicans predictably filibustered it. And with Republicans taking the House, wielding the filibuster in the Senate, and continuing to pursue obstructionist opposition to anything and everything President Obama and the Democrats wanted to do, working to deny the president success at every turn, what else was he to do? The only alternative to Republican-instigated legislative paralysis was executive action.

And while it may seem political to do it now, it was always going to be political -- because it's political -- and Republicans were always going to criticize it on either political or ideological terms, or both. The problem for Romney is that he can't credibly criticize it on ideological terms because he's not that sort of right-wing ideologue. He may have played one back during the primaries, when he was trying to fend off Gingrich and Santorum, but it wasn't exactly his finest performance, at least in the sense that it wasn't terribly believable. He was clearly pandering for right-wing votes. He needs those votes still, but coming out against the DREAM Act wouldn't exactly win him support among independents or business-minded conservatives (who have always been soft on undocumented immigration) -- and certainly not among Latinos. (The CBO has also concluded that the DREAM Act would be good for the budget as well.)

Indeed, as our friend Mustang Bobby wrote the other day:

So, the president is basically implementing the DREAM Act that Republicans supported once upon a time... when it wasn't sponsored by a black Democrat in the White House. That just so happens to be a big deal for a crucial voting bloc. This provokes the nutsery into acting like a bunch of sugared-up ten-year-olds throwing a tantrum, making them look like the rude and whiny brats that they are.

Win-win for Obama. 

Which is to say, it's good policy and good politics. And Romney knows that. Which is precisely why he's dithering.


Even Republican wunderkind (and possible Romney running mate) Marco Rubio, the son of (Cuban) immigrants, thinks it's a good idea, saying it's "welcome news." Sure, he criticized it for being just a short-term solution, as Romney did, but that's hardly much of a criticism at this point.

And just to drive the point home, even Krazy Bill Kristol, who rarely passes up an opportunity to go after the president and concede anything to the Democrats (such a shameless partisan hack is he), is on board: "I think it's a sensible policy... I think it's the right thing to do, actually."

Again, is it any wonder Romney is dithering so embarrassingly (and so tellingly), showing anything but conviction, fortitude, and leadership when faced with a challenging issue on which President Obama has shown such strength and determination?


For my views on the DREAM Act itself, see my post from December 2010. It included this:

It isn't just that the legislation is broadly popular, or that the military supports it, it's that Latinos (or Hispanics, as the two terms are generally used interchangeably), perhaps the key emerging demographic in the U.S., see it as essential. As [National Council of La Raza president Janet] MurguĂ­a notes, this vote is "defining," meaning that it will be remembered. And what will be remembered is that Democrats supported the legislation and Republicans opposed it.

Of course, we already knew where the two parties stood on the issue of undocumented immigration, but this bill (and especially the divided vote in the House and a likely non-vote in the Senate as a result of Republican opposition) essentially crystallizes the issue in clear and media-friendly terms:

Democrats want to give undocumented immigrants a path to citizenship, Republicans do not.
Democrats want to give the children of undocumented immigrants a chance to make it in America, Republicans do not.

Consider the alternatives: While Democrats want to act humanely and to recognize the valuable contributions undocumented immigrants have made and will make, as Americans, to American society, Republicans prefer persecution, imprisonment, and deportation.

While Democrats want America to be a free and open society that welcomes newcomers and understands why so many people risk their lives to make it to America, Republicans want America to be a fortress largely closed off to the outside world except for the free trade of goods to allow the rich to get richer and internally to be a police state that targets the Other, building walls to keep people out and apart, protecting privilege as it effectively disenfranchises the vast majority of Americans, documented or otherwise.

Yes, the two sides are clearly defined and, with this vote, and with the DREAM Act generally, the choice is clear.

Even if the Democrats ultimately lose in Congress, they stand to gain immensely at the polls down the road -- and that, one hopes, will finally lead not just to a path to citizenship for young people but for the acceptance, inclusion, and full participation in American society of those who came to America to make a better life for themselves and their families, and who only want to share in the hopes and dreams of what is supposedly a great nation.

The choice remains clear today. And Republicans are struggling with being, once again, on the wrong side of history.

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  • President Obama stated that the United States will provide "deferred action" and Dream Act for a period of two years and renewable every two years.This will allow Congress to create a more permanent solution. It will stop deportation of these young immigrant children and let them continue to complete their schooling, military service and/or their jobs.

    By Blogger Unknown, at 5:08 AM  

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