Given the opportunity to demonstrate his concern and willingness to take charge of the ongoing fiasco that has overwhelmed U.S. border resources, President Obama chose instead to resort to his favorite pastime: bashing his political opponents.
To say that the president’s decision to schedule partisan fundraising events at the same time that the Rio Grande was being stormed by thousands of illegal aliens made for bad optics is an understatement. Even Democrats have compared his decision to avoid the border like the plague to President Bush’s flyby over a Hurricane Katrina-devastated New Orleans. As I wrote yesterday, that’s a bit unfair but the injured party is Bush, not Obama.
But even if we leave aside the sterile debate about whether Obama should have gone to the border, the problem now is how the president has exacerbated an already terrible situation. His defense of his choice to stay away from the problem was worse than the decision. Saying that he wasn’t interested in “photo-ops” or “theater” rang false even to liberals who know very well that a day rarely passes when the White House isn’t staging some dog-and-pony show where he is framed by the adoring faces of supporters standing by him. Moreover, it came just after time spent in Colorado where Obama pretended to hang out with ordinary people in front of cameras and then drank beer and played pool with the governor. And when he did speak in Texas, at least tangentially about the crisis today, the event was held … wait for it … in a theater where as usual, his advance team had assembled a chorus of fans to nod, laugh, and clap in all the right places.
But what was even more outrageous was the content of his speech. Instead of a sober, presidential assessment of a genuine crisis, he gave the country partisan rhetoric. Instead of a little much-needed introspection about how his statements and policies had, albeit unintentionally, set off a human wave of illegals seeking to get into the country where they expected to be allowed to stay, he gave us more jokes about the do-nothing Republicans in Congress.
Obama enjoys playing the comedian-in-chief and it would be churlish to deny him the occasional riposte at his tormentors on the other side of the aisle. But for him to play this game while visiting the same state where what his administration is describing as a “humanitarian crisis” is unfolding is, at best, unseemly and, at worst, a disgrace.
Just as bad as his lack of taste was the substance of his remarks. Rather than engage on how the border surge happened or even how it can be resolved without trashing the rule of law or treating the illegals, among whom number many unaccompanied children, Obama dodged the question.
His defenders may think that his focus on the failure of the House of Representatives to pass immigration reform was very much to the point. But regardless of whether you think the bipartisan fix passed by the Senate was a good idea, that has very little to do with the fact that the borders are being stormed now. Even if the House had passed that bill, it would not have changed the fact that so many people from Central America believe all they have to do to gain the right to be in the United States is to sneak over the border. Indeed, as someone who supported the Senate bill at the time, I have to admit that in retrospect, the effort to find a path to legal status, if not citizenship for the 11 million illegal aliens already here, may have played a role in encouraging this new wave of illegals. So, too, did President Obama’s statements about allowing so-called “dreamers”—youngsters illegally taken into this country by their parents. Conservatives who insisted that the border must be secured before any thought of dealing with those currently in the United States were probably right.
While immigration reform remains good policy and good politics for Republicans who need to build some bridges to Hispanics, the border crisis is a reminder that any attempt to address the issue must begin with measures aimed at security and defending the rule of law. On those points, the president has little to say. Moreover, by harping on partisan talking points and cheap jokes while demonstrably avoiding ownership of an Obama-made crisis, he appeared more clueless than most second-term lame ducks usually look at this stage of their presidencies.
As much as a photo-op at the border wouldn’t have done much good, it would have been better than today’s tawdry piece of presidential political theater. It showed again what we have known all along about Obama. His great strength is campaigning. His great weakness is governing. As a man who will never again face the electorate the former skill is now obsolete. But as the president of a country badly in need of leadership and administrative skill, the latter failing is as depressing as it is disgraceful.