Commentary Magazine


Topic: immigration

The Baleful Effects of the Obama Presidency

In his fine post on last night’s speech, Jonathan wrote, “But President Obama has made that impossible by firing the first shot in a political war intended to further polarize the nation. Nothing could be more cynical or less high-minded.”

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In his fine post on last night’s speech, Jonathan wrote, “But President Obama has made that impossible by firing the first shot in a political war intended to further polarize the nation. Nothing could be more cynical or less high-minded.”

This is not incidental damage to our republic.

There is such a thing as a nation’s political and civic culture. Ours is in some disrepair right now. This isn’t the only time that’s been the case, for sure. Politics in a free society–any free society–guarantees some amount of division and polarization. But beyond a certain point it’s not normative or healthy; and if there are large, difficult problems that need to be addressed, as is now the case, the political system has to work. Right now it’s not.

Why it’s not is a complicated matter. But there’s no question that President Obama bears a great deal of the responsibility for our political distemper. His announcement last night that he’s going to employ means that he himself deemed to be lawless and unconstitutional, in order to get his way on immigration, is guaranteed to further roil our politics. Indeed, it may well have been done in part to do just that. Whatever his motivations, Mr. Obama has taken an unprecedented step that will further split apart not just our two parties but our nation.

It’s worth reminding ourselves, then, that when he first ran for president, Mr. Obama not only promised to place greater limits on executive power; he also promised to “turn the page” on the “old politics” of division and anger. He would end a politics that “breeds division and conflict and cynicism.” He would help us to “rediscover our bonds to each other and … get out of this constant petty bickering that’s come to characterize our politics.” His election, he informed us, was a sign we had “chosen hope over fear, unity of purpose over conflict and discord.”

“I will listen to you,” Obama said on a stage in Grant Park on the night of his election, “especially when we disagree.” And on the day of his inauguration he came to proclaim “an end to the petty grievances and false promises, the recriminations and worn-out dogmas that for far too long have strangled our politics.”

Yet here we are, six years later, with a president who has caused greater division and conflict, who has deepened public cynicism, and who has chosen–eagerly and gleefully chosen–conflict and discord over unity of purpose. This may not be the worst sin of the Obama era, but it ranks quite high on the list.

Other presidents have made mistakes, and some have committed impeachable offenses. But I would be hard-pressed to name a president who has so selfishly and narcissistically injured our constitutional order and political culture. The baleful effects of the Obama presidency are now nearly incalculable.

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Did Obama Unite the GOP on Immigration?

Tennessee Democrat Steve Cohen provided a moment of levity at a Secret Service hearing yesterday when he suggested that a moat might make a good upgrade for White House security. He backtracked today, saying he didn’t mean a moat-moat, just a water barrier of some sort. But the timing, as President Obama was feeling his monarchical oats, was impeccable. Indeed, this president’s preference for the authority of an elected kingship shows how Obama may have misjudged the Republican reaction to executive amnesty.

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Tennessee Democrat Steve Cohen provided a moment of levity at a Secret Service hearing yesterday when he suggested that a moat might make a good upgrade for White House security. He backtracked today, saying he didn’t mean a moat-moat, just a water barrier of some sort. But the timing, as President Obama was feeling his monarchical oats, was impeccable. Indeed, this president’s preference for the authority of an elected kingship shows how Obama may have misjudged the Republican reaction to executive amnesty.

In the past, Obama has been fairly skilled in dividing Republicans against themselves, especially on the issue of immigration. And one might have expected something similar this time as well. Republicans are not, after all, of one mind in how to respond to the executive action he plans to announce tonight. Obama has twice scuttled immigration reform, once as senator and prospective presidential candidate and once as president as well, because the issue was thought to hurt Republicans with Hispanic voters.

The issue also seemed to weaken the Republican presidential fields. In 2012 Rick Perry stumbled badly over an immigration question at a primary debate and never really recovered. And for 2016, prospective candidates found themselves on different sides of the issue: Marco Rubio helped get comprehensive immigration reform through the Senate, Rand Paul wavered but ultimately voted against it, and Ted Cruz was opposed.

That, and the fact that reform died in the House anyway, was a setback for Rubio. The Florida senator had since recovered some of his earlier momentum thanks in part to the president’s vast array of foreign-policy blunders, and the president’s executive amnesty is likely to help the two GOP rising stars who voted for immigration reform last year: Rubio and New Hampshire’s Kelly Ayotte.

Immigration hawks will still remember their votes for the reform bill. But the president’s actions do two things that will help them. First, it removes some of the fear the grassroots might have in what action a hypothetical President Rubio might take on immigration. That is, if amnesty is already done, then the only things that are left are issues that Republicans tend to broadly agree on, such as border security.

It’s true that comprehensive immigration reform was unlikely to pass the House in the near future anyway, but Obama has essentially taken the part of it that conservatives like the least off the table. There’s no looming threat of amnesty; it’s here. Having already supported immigration reform, Rubio will get some credit from Hispanic voters. But will his opposition to executive amnesty lose them?

That’s where the second aspect of Obama’s miscalculation comes in. By making such an obvious power grab, he has made opposition to his actions intellectually much simpler. The words “king” and “emperor” have been thrown around; Ted Cruz even referenced Cicero’s First Oration Against Catiline today, as if Obama would even know who that is:

“When, President Obama, do you mean to cease abusing our patience? How long is that madness of yours still to mock us? When is there to be an end to that unbridled audacity of yours, swaggering about as it does now?” he said, using the beginning of Cicero’s First Oration Against Catiline.

Even Democrats seem to have no idea how to explain how the executive amnesty is legal.

Which is to say: it’s very easy to criticize this move without attacking immigrants–though the media, surely, will attempt to conflate the two. And doing so also enables Republican candidates to come out strongly against Obama’s power grabs more generally, and his immigration actions specifically, to a conservative audience in the same way they would do so to a general-election audience, without having to flip-flop or triangulate.

Obama has been criticized for this power grab by even traditionally supportive left-leaning media, such as the Washington Post and the Economist, because of the precedent it would set and the left’s fear of reprisals. This debate isn’t about the policy anymore, and anyone who pretends otherwise is selling something. Obama has given even supporters of immigration reform a way to oppose amnesty without opposing immigration in itself.

Obama has made the conversation about the damage this act would do to American democracy. That’s very comfortable terrain for Republicans, who are thus far more united on this issue than they would otherwise be.

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Obama Is About to Commit an Act of Constitutional Infamy

The president will present his case on behalf of his forthcoming executive order on amnesty tomorrow at 8 p.m. I certainly hope President Obama addresses the arguments against his action that were repeatedly and passionately made by … President Obama. Our friends at National Review have put together a nice video here; I’d urge you to watch it. Mr. Obama is now acting like, in his words, an “emperor.” His hypocrisy is, even by his standards, staggering.

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The president will present his case on behalf of his forthcoming executive order on amnesty tomorrow at 8 p.m. I certainly hope President Obama addresses the arguments against his action that were repeatedly and passionately made by … President Obama. Our friends at National Review have put together a nice video here; I’d urge you to watch it. Mr. Obama is now acting like, in his words, an “emperor.” His hypocrisy is, even by his standards, staggering.

But hypocrisy is not unusual in politicians and presidents; firing a missile aimed at our constitutional form of government is. And that is what Mr. Obama is about to do.

As the liberal law professor Jonathan Turley put it last night, this is a “particularly dangerous moment” for the president to defy the will of Congress yet again, just 15 days after an election in which the American people registered their emphatic (anti-Obama) judgment. “What the president is suggesting is tearing at the very fabric of the Constitution,” according to Professor Turley. “We have a separation of powers that gives us balance. And that doesn’t protect the branches — it’s not there to protect the executive branch or legislative branch — it’s to protect liberty. It’s to prevent any branch from assuming so much control that they become a threat to liberty.”

What is about to happen may be the low point in a presidency filled with them. Mr. Obama is acting in a way that he himself knows–that he himself has said–is unconstitutional and indefensible. No matter. In an act of unmatched narcissism and selfishness, the president will create–he is thirsting to create–a constitutional crisis that is utterly unnecessary and will further polarize our political culture.

Mr. Obama is about to commit an act of constitutional infamy. This is a stain that will stay with him.

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Presidents and Power Grabs: A Lesson From Harry Truman

There has been a lot of smart commentary on President Obama’s looming executive action on immigration–now expected to be announced tomorrow–and how Republicans might respond to it. Few on the right dispute the fact that Obama is creating a dangerous precedent, though there is disagreement over whether conservatives should embrace that precedent in order to get liberals to understand the gravity of it or whether legal challenges would suffice. But I think it’s worth contemplating just how much is lost with Obama’s actions, regardless of the right’s future success in rolling back the effects.

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There has been a lot of smart commentary on President Obama’s looming executive action on immigration–now expected to be announced tomorrow–and how Republicans might respond to it. Few on the right dispute the fact that Obama is creating a dangerous precedent, though there is disagreement over whether conservatives should embrace that precedent in order to get liberals to understand the gravity of it or whether legal challenges would suffice. But I think it’s worth contemplating just how much is lost with Obama’s actions, regardless of the right’s future success in rolling back the effects.

Indeed, the president’s actions might very well be legal, and they may survive a legal or constitutional (or even political) challenge. Even if they are not constitutional, the public rarely cares nearly as much about process as about policy. This favors the president, whose unilateral executive actions cannot be filibustered or vetoed. We like to think of our political system as one that restrains the executive, just as it restrains the other branches, through competition. And that’s true. But enough of the fundamentals of American politics favor the president to make it crucial that if the system is going to survive, presidents must not grab at all the power they can just because they won’t be stopped.

A good example of the right outlook of a president comes from Harry Truman. He notably and unilaterally rolled back several of what he thought were FDR’s power grabs. But the thought process behind one of those decisions stands out: Truman’s refusal to run for reelection in 1952.

In 1947 Congress passed the 22nd amendment, which forbade an elected third presidential term. It was ratified in 1951. The amendment was written to exclude the sitting president–Truman–from its restrictions, however, so as not to be seen as a Republican Congress targeting a sitting Democratic president. Truman was elected in 1948, and could have run again in 1952.

Yet he already knew in April 1950–before the Korean War–that he had no interest in testing those limits, or lack thereof. And here we have, from Truman’s biographer Robert J. Donovan, what Truman was thinking at the time, having written out his determination. Donovan smartly devotes a (brief) chapter to this decision, but here is what Truman wrote the day he made this decision:

“Washington, Jefferson, Monroe, Madison, Andrew Jackson and Woodrow Wilson as well as Calvin Coolidge stood by the precedent of two terms. Only Grant, Theodore Roosevelt and F.D.R. made the attempt to break that precedent. F.D.R. succeeded.

“In my opinion eight years as President is enough and sometimes too much for any man to serve in that capacity.

“There is a lure in power. It can get into a man’s blood just as gambling and lust for money have been known to do.

“This is a Republic. The greatest in the history of the world. I want this country to continue as a Republic. Cincinnatus and Washington pointed the way. When Rome forgot Cincinnatus, its down fall began. When we forget the examples of such men as Washington, Jefferson and Andrew Jackson, all of whom could have had continuation in the office, then will we start down the road to dictatorship and ruin. I know I could be elected again and continue to break the old precedent as it was broken by F.D.R. It should not be done. That precedent should continue–not by a Constitutional amendment but by custom based on the honor of the man in the office.

“Therefore to reestablish that custom, although by a quibble I could say I’ve only had one term, I am not a candidate and will not accept the nomination for another term.”

It’s significant also that Truman wrote this down but did not announce it at the time. He was not posturing or making excuses or trying to burnish his image in the minds of voters. He also didn’t want to be seen as a lame duck. And that just goes to show that he was, or would have been, an otherwise serious candidate for reelection.

But Truman’s words, as crisp and humble and wise as they may be, are not altogether easy to read nowadays. They serve as a rebuke to the way the presidency has grown in stature and power and they are also a reminder that not every president seeks to take all he can and that we shouldn’t simply assume presidents will expand their authority as far as the law will let them.

Truman understood that there is something about power that is unhealthy both for the man who possesses it and for those over whom he wields it. Getting presidents to act with that in mind shouldn’t take a constitutional amendment, Truman thought.

And he’s right, and it’s what makes Obama’s power grab so disconcerting. Truman understood that legally enforced limits aren’t the kinds of limits that show, shape, or test a person’s character. The limits presidents place on themselves, as honorable public servants, are. Something is lost, then–a great deal, in fact–when the law is the only limit on a president’s actions.

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What Should Republicans Do to Stop This Aggressively Unconstitutional President?

It’s hard to overstate how irresponsible President Obama would be to go forward, as he almost surely will, with his sweeping executive order on amnesty. Ross Douthat of the New York Times has written a fine column on why doing so would be, in his words, a “disgrace.” What the president is on the verge of doing would do tremendous, long-term damage to our political culture and our constitutional order. It would set a dangerous precedent. And it would be an act of extraordinary selfishness.

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It’s hard to overstate how irresponsible President Obama would be to go forward, as he almost surely will, with his sweeping executive order on amnesty. Ross Douthat of the New York Times has written a fine column on why doing so would be, in his words, a “disgrace.” What the president is on the verge of doing would do tremendous, long-term damage to our political culture and our constitutional order. It would set a dangerous precedent. And it would be an act of extraordinary selfishness.

By now none of this should  surprise us. Yet on some level it’s hard to believe an American president would do something that is, as a friend of mine puts it, “constitutionally unconscionable”–and so at odds with what Obama himself has said repeatedly. Yet we are where we are, and Republicans need to prepare to respond to the president’s provocations.

What to do?

Some of the same people who embraced the stratagem that led to the government shutdown in 2013–they thought it would be a marvelous, can’t-miss, the-nation-will-rally-to-our-side idea–are eager to do the same thing again. The problem, of course, is that the government shutdown was a failure, for reasons I sketched out here. It didn’t achieve its purpose (repealing the Affordable Care Act), the public hated the shutdown, and by an overwhelming number Americans blamed Republicans for it. We know as an empirical fact that the GOP badly hurt its reputation with the public, and it took time to repair it. It doesn’t help that the same people who were so sure of the Ted Cruz-led gambit now refuse to admit it turned out much different, and much worse, they they said it would. In fact, some of them are even claiming it worked, which is simply silly.

That said, I’m not in principle opposed to creating a series of showdowns over funding the government to try to force the president to back down on his expected plan to grant amnesty to millions of illegal immigrants (just as I wasn’t opposed to it as a means to defund the Affordable Care Act). The issue for me is one of efficacy and prudence. Will it work–or will it backfire? Will it help strengthen the conservative cause or set it back? Will Mr. Obama be forced to back down, or will he emerge stronger and Republicans weaker?

The issue has nothing to do with how much one opposes ObamaCare or is troubled by the president’s unconstitutional actions related to illegal immigrants. The most vocal advocates for government shutdowns often frame this as if they’re strongly opposed to the president’s agenda whereas those who are wary of the shutdown are not. That’s simply not the case. The difference has to do with tactics, not with the end goals. (Representative Paul Ryan thought the steps Republicans took that eventually led to the shutdown were unwise, and he’s done far more than almost anyone you can name to undo ObamaCare and advance a conservative governing agenda.) The mistake is to assume that simply because you support a particular approach the rest of America will, too; that because you think the nation should see things just as you do means it will.

Because I believe that what the president is about to do is egregious–constitutionally and institutionally, as an aggressive attack on the role of Congress and the separation of powers–I’m open to all sorts of recourses. Certainly Republicans in Congress need to respond in some manner. Those advocating a government shutdown aren’t being moronic or irresponsible; they want to protect our constitutional form of government. But neither are those who are warning against a shutdown being weak, impotent, or cowardly. It’s a matter on which intelligent people can disagree.

If you believe as I do that a government shutdown would in the end hurt more than help the conservative cause–that it simply won’t achieve its aim and it will cause collateral damage in the process–the obvious thing to do is to shift the fight onto terrain that is more favorable to the GOP. Republicans should therefore amass all the actions at their disposal to inflict maximum damage on Mr. Obama while not walking into his government shutdown trap. I wonder, for example, whether Republicans might simply refuse to act on the president’s judicial and Cabinet nominees unless and until he undoes his (forthcoming) executive action. Can similar steps be taken on a range of other issues? Can Republicans basically hit the “off” switch when it comes to the normal procedures and cooperation that takes place between a president and Congress, regardless of which party is in control?

It does strike me that we are facing an exceptional situation; that the president is inviting this needless confrontation and that he needs to pay quite a high price for it. It won’t be as high as many of us wish, but we have to adjust around that fact. The challenge for conservatives is to act in ways that are wise and realistic; that are guided not by fury but by clear thinking; and that ultimately persuade people to our point of view. We need calm, sober, intelligent, and enlightened individuals who can advance the arguments for constitutionalism and the rule of law. Because right now we have a president who is subverting both.

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Immigration, the Media, and Fictitious Conservative Heartlessness

President Obama’s threat to order an executive amnesty has touched off several simultaneous debates about the plan to legalize millions of illegal immigrants with the stroke of a pen. Left and right are arguing over: the premise of the plan that something must be done; the legality/constitutionality of the move; whether the actual policy aim would be attractive if done through Congress; whether the move would torpedo–again–comprehensive immigration reform; the resulting effect of the plan on future immigration; and other issues. And while the media have dumbed down this debate, no one has done so more plainly and in the service of self-aggrandizement than CNN’s Brian Stelter.

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President Obama’s threat to order an executive amnesty has touched off several simultaneous debates about the plan to legalize millions of illegal immigrants with the stroke of a pen. Left and right are arguing over: the premise of the plan that something must be done; the legality/constitutionality of the move; whether the actual policy aim would be attractive if done through Congress; whether the move would torpedo–again–comprehensive immigration reform; the resulting effect of the plan on future immigration; and other issues. And while the media have dumbed down this debate, no one has done so more plainly and in the service of self-aggrandizement than CNN’s Brian Stelter.

Stelter, the former New York Times media writer, hosts the Sunday morning show Reliable Sources, which examines the media coverage of major issues. Yet rather than offering some much-needed criticism, Stelter’s show has an unfortunate tendency to further elevate the media’s sense of self-importance. A case in point was yesterday’s “Red News/Blue News” segment on immigration.

The point of the regular segment is ostensibly to show how conservative and liberal outlets are covering a story, often talking right past each other. But yesterday Stelter took the opportunity to declare that the media weren’t reflecting the debate on the right and on the left; they were, instead, setting the terms of the debate for the brainwashed masses.

After playing a clip of Fox host Megyn Kelly interviewing GOP Senator Jeff Sessions about the executive amnesty and before putting up a clip of Charles Krauthammer using a form of “the I word,” as Stelter calls it–impeachment–Stelter says this:

Notice what the banner on the screen said. It said, “Plan May Let Millions of Illegals Stay,” illegals.

And when “The New York Times” confirmed FOX’s scoop in advance on Thursday, “The Times” headline said, plans may allow millions of immigrants to stay and work, immigrants.

See, it’s not really the numbers that are in dispute here. It’s not the facts or the figures. It’s the language, it’s the narrative. By Thursday, the FOX narrative was about lawlessness, President Obama acting unlawfully.

Stelter apparently wasn’t even listening to clip he played, because what he said is just plain wrong. But first, here’s how the “blue news” played it. “What you will almost never hear on FOX, though, what you’re unlikely to see on red state is the blue news narrative,” Stelter says. “That’s a very different one. That narrative is about families being wrecked by deportations and about a president standing up for what’s right and delivering on a campaign promise.”

Stelter then played a couple clips from liberal outlets, which included this exchange from MSNBC:

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: These are American families that are being torn apart by a policy that doesn’t work.

ED SCHULTZ, MSNBC: So why can’t a story like that move conservatives?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I don’t understand how anyone couldn’t see the pro-family aspects of what we’re talking about here.

At that point, Stelter sought to wrap up the segment by imparting the following piece of wisdom to his viewers:

And I will try to answer that question for you. It’s because red news and blue news are talking about two separate things.

In this case, MSNBC is talking about what they would say is morality, while FOX is talking about what they would say is legality. Morality and legality.

There are two reactions to this. The first is that Stelter apparently believes that conservatives don’t see the liberal side of this issue because they watch Fox News, and vice versa. The idea that Fox brainwashes its viewers rather than reflecting the debate they’re having amongst themselves but can’t find on the other mainstream media channels is certainly a popular idea among leftists who want to discredit both Fox and the conservative movement.

Though most intelligent people know it’s just a caricature, the left’s extreme partisans don’t know or don’t care. For Stelter to trade in this tells you that media critics, like the supposedly nonpartisan “fact checker” columnists in newspapers, are simply joining the debate on one side, not enlightening their audience with honest assessments. And in defense of liberal viewers, the same can be said of Stelter’s judgment of “blue news.” I can assure Stelter that MSNBC and its nine viewers are not setting the agenda of American liberalism.

The second response to Stelter’s segment is to note that even the Fox programs that his staff researchers watch for his show prep don’t say what Stelter says they say. Here is the text of the brief clip Stelter played of Sessions’s response to Kelly:

SEN. JEFF SESSIONS (R), ALABAMA: And every one of these individuals are going to be given a photo I.D., a Social Security number, and the right to take a job in America, jobs that too few exist and too many Americans are looking for. It’s just the wrong policy and it will incentivize more illegality in the future.

So is it true that, as Stelter says, “it’s not really the numbers that are in dispute here. It’s not the facts or the figures”? Certainly not. Sessions is talking about the impact on employment and the number of jobs available as well as the warning that the practical effect of the executive amnesty will be far larger in number because it will incentivize further illegal immigration. And although Stelter would like to portray the right (with a nod to the MSNBC hosts he excerpts) as cold and impervious to the human factor, the opposite is the case. It’s just that Sessions is talking about the human cost to current citizens and future immigrants.

And it’s not as though the right doesn’t have an ongoing debate about the degree of compassion due illegal immigrants. We talk about that here at COMMENTARY quite often, but that aspect of the debate has been elevated for a couple of years now since both Rick Perry and Newt Gingrich used their 2012 presidential candidacies as a platform to advocate for keeping immigrant families together even if they came here illegally.

Maybe Stelter just watched a few minutes of Fox and didn’t see such an argument advanced. But that’s no excuse to play liberal talking heads leveling that accusation and then pretty much endorsing it (“I will try to answer that question for you”) instead of challenging it, all so conservatives could fit into the neat box that allows Stelter to condemn the supposed insularity of his cable competitors.

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Obama’s Immigration Stall Fooling No One

Back in June, President Obama promised to use executive orders to legalize millions of illegal immigrants. This blatant attempt to bypass both Congress and the Constitution put embattled red state Senate Democrats in a bind since more evidence of Obama’s attempt to rule on his own might doom his party at a time when concern over illegal immigration is rising. But to the dismay of Hispanic activists, the president punted on the moves, saying earlier this week he would keep his promise but only after the midterm elections so as to give his party a fighting chance to hold the Senate. But postponement may not be enough. If Democrats are going to keep the Senate, Obama may have to promise never to do as his left-wing base bids.

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Back in June, President Obama promised to use executive orders to legalize millions of illegal immigrants. This blatant attempt to bypass both Congress and the Constitution put embattled red state Senate Democrats in a bind since more evidence of Obama’s attempt to rule on his own might doom his party at a time when concern over illegal immigration is rising. But to the dismay of Hispanic activists, the president punted on the moves, saying earlier this week he would keep his promise but only after the midterm elections so as to give his party a fighting chance to hold the Senate. But postponement may not be enough. If Democrats are going to keep the Senate, Obama may have to promise never to do as his left-wing base bids.

As Politico reports, some Democrats are demanding that the president go farther and promise not to issue any executive orders that would unilaterally transform our immigration system even after the congressional vote. In particular, North Carolina Senator Kay Hagan has asked that the president make it clear that the postponement of his plans be made permanent. Angus King of Maine, an independent that caucuses with the Democrats agrees and he isn’t even running for reelection this year.

The reason for their concerns can be seen in the latest NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll that came out earlier this week that showed the public now trusts Republicans to deal more effectively with immigration than Democrats by a 35 to 27 percent margin. That’s a startling reverse of the numbers in the same poll on this issue from last December when Democrats had a 31-26 percent edge. The jump in the GOP numbers can be attributed to the surge of illegal immigrants across the Texas border as a result of the belief that the president would offer amnesty to illegals soon.

Last year’s bipartisan Senate immigration reform bill that sought to both offer a path to citizenship for 11 million illegal immigrants already here and to tighten security at the border may have been popular. But in the wake of this summer fiasco on the Rio Grande, conservative arguments that the border must be fixed before a solution for the illegals now makes a great deal of sense.

Even more importantly, outside of Hispanic activists who have been clamoring for Obama to use executive orders to unilaterally change the law without the consent of Congress, even Democrats are very uncomfortable with the notion of Obama running roughshod over the Constitution to deal with immigration.

Even worse, as Hagan’s public fears make clear, no one was fooled by Obama’s transparently political motives for postponing his planned moves. Merely putting off the decision until after the election hasn’t defused the issue for those who are rightly upset about the president’s power grab. Conservatives were already more energized about this election than liberals but the possibility that the president will ignore the will of Congress and try to govern without its consent is exactly the sort of issue that will drive the GOP base to the polls. By contrast, the president’s punt will likely depress his liberal base especially as Hispanics are disappointed by Obama’s broken promise after so much hype about the plan over the summer.

Even as most of her southern Democratic colleagues are losing ground in the polls, Hagan got a boost in the polls last week as a result of a strong debate performance against GOP opponent Thom Tillis. But the race is still very close and Hagan knows it might will turn on the possibility that Obama will seek to thwart the Constitution and act on his own to grant millions of illegals a path to legalization if not citizenship. It could also potentially doom any hope of getting enough Republicans to vote for an immigration reform bill at some point in the future because distrust of the president is so intense.

It may be that Obama’s desire to bypass Congress and do as he likes may be sufficiently high that he will refuse to disavow acting on his own. That would be in character for a president who acts at times as if he is allergic to cooperating with the legislative branch. But if he continues to threaten to act in this manner, his party may pay a high price.

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Obama Is Destroying Traditional Democratic Issue Advantages

Here’s an interesting, and potentially significant, effect of the Obama presidency. Issues that have traditionally been very strong Democratic ones no longer are.

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Here’s an interesting, and potentially significant, effect of the Obama presidency. Issues that have traditionally been very strong Democratic ones no longer are.

Health care is one obvious example. Historically it’s been an issue on which Democrats have dominated Republicans. No more. While the public still trusts Democrats more than Republicans on health care, the margin is single digits. And a recent poll shows that nearly 60 percent (58) of Americans disapprove of Obama’s handling of health care. Health care was a central issue in the GOP landslide in the 2010 mid-term elections, and it’s a key subject in this year’s mid-term elections as well. In almost every instance, Democrats are playing defense on health care.

Then there’s immigration, another issue that until now has been a potent one for Democrats. No more. A poll last week by AP-GfK shows that immigration is now President Obama’s worst issue. More than two-thirds of Americans (68 percent) disapprove of Obama’s handling of the immigration issue in general. Just 31 percent approve. Aaron Blake of the Washington Post points out, “when you separate those most passionate about the issue, the difference is even more stark, with 57 percent opposed and just 18 percent in favor. That’s more than three-to-one.” A CNN/Opinion Research poll from June showed Obama’s worst two issues were gun policy and illegal immigration.

What’s happened, it appears, is that the public is holding the Democratic Party accountable for the failures of Mr. Obama. Americans have for the most part cast aside the airy rhetoric and promises; they’re now judging the president and his party against reality. Their propositions and policies have been tested in real time, in real circumstances, and the results have been by and large a disaster.

This hardly means Republicans are home free on these matters. But it does mean there are enormous cracks in the foundation and Republicans have a historic opportunity to make inroads on issues that were once owned by Democrats.

Barack Obama may turn out to be a historic president, but not for the reasons Democrats were hoping for.

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David Remnick’s Distorted Judgment

The New Yorker’s David Remnick is an intelligent man and a fine editor and writer. (I just read his excellent 1998 book on Muhammed Ali, King of the World.) But when it comes to politics, his political judgments, especially about Barack Obama, are hopelessly distorted.

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The New Yorker’s David Remnick is an intelligent man and a fine editor and writer. (I just read his excellent 1998 book on Muhammed Ali, King of the World.) But when it comes to politics, his political judgments, especially about Barack Obama, are hopelessly distorted.

Mr. Remnick, it’s worth noting, appeared on the November 7, 2008 broadcast of PBS’s Charlie Rose discussing the election of Obama. Mr. Remnick compared Obama’s rhetorical skills to Lincoln. The campaign, he said, “shows him in a decision-making mold that is very encouraging.” Mr. Obama demonstrated a “receptivity to ideas outside the frame” and possesses a “worldview that allows for complexity.” He “assumes a maturity in the American public” and possesses “great audacity.” Not to believe Obama’s election will have “enormous effect” on the streets of Cairo, or Nairobi, or Jerusalem is “naive.” It continued in this vein until Remnick–who was nearly in tears during portions of the interview, which included historians–finally had to say, “We’ll climb out of the tank soon.”

Such Obama adulation is impossible to sustain these days, with the Obama presidency in ruins. Mr. Remnick has therefore decided the thing to do is to make excuses for Obama. And so on Sunday’s roundtable discussion on ABC’s This Week, Remnick said this:

He’s pretty stifled [legislatively]. It’s frustrating to see his projection of frustration. You want him to suck it up and keep going at it and leading and leading. But I think history is going to show that this presidency has been stifled at every angle.

Actually, for the first two years of his presidency Obama had his way with the stimulus package, the Affordable Care Act, the GM-Chrysler bailouts, “cash for clunkers,” financial regulations, release of the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) funds, credit-card price controls, the extension of jobless benefits, and more. As the Wall Street Journal put it, “Mr. Obama has been the least obstructed president since LBJ in 1965 or FDR in 1933.” Mr. Remnick’s comments, then, are quite misleading.

To be sure, after the epic blowout Democrats suffered in the 2010 midterm elections, the president has been stifled in many areas (though he is getting around that by taking a series of lawless acts). But the crushing defeat of Democrats was precisely because Obama got his way on so many things and the public was unhappy with the results. Since then, they have grown more disenchanted, to the point that Obama’s approval ratings are now among the lowest ever for a president at this juncture in his term and Republicans, right now at least, are favored to take control of the Senate. Since defending Obama isn’t easy these days, expect people like Remnick to train their fury on Republicans, attempting to portray them as nihilistic and all the rest. The thinking here is that while Obama may not be perfect–on second thought, he may not be the equal of Lincoln–Republicans are malicious and malevolent. That is the political narrative that is supposed to save New Yorker-style liberalism.

One other thing: In the context of the discussion about the president sending signals he is going to sign an executive order giving amnesty to millions of illegal immigrants, Remnick said this: “The immigration issue, first of all, I think a lot of people at this table are here because of America’s openness to immigration. I think that’s fair to say.”

It also irrelevant to the discussion. As Remnick’s co-panelist William Kristol pointed out, Remnick conflated legal immigration with illegal immigration. They are quite distinct, and our approaches to them should be, too. To treat the debate over illegal immigration as if it’s a debate about legal immigration is once again misleading.

And let’s examine the logic of Remnick’s position. It goes something like this: Most of us are here because somewhere in the past our relatives were legally allowed to immigrate to America, so we should have completely open borders and allow everyone in who wants to settle in America. QED. If the suffering peoples of Latin America, Africa, and other continents want to come to America, on what grounds is Mr. Remnick going to say no? Is there a limit to the number of people we can take in? A million? Ten million? Fifty million? A hundred million? And should we give priority to the people living in, say, Sierra Leone, Burundi, Madagascar, Swaziland, Congo, Zimbabwe, and Haiti? If someone says we have to draw some lines on illegal immigration, will Remnick’s response be, first of all, most of the people making those arguments are here because of America’s openness to immigration and so they have no standing to make their case?

It’s fascinating to see how people’s political biases distort not just their objectivity but their reasoning ability. David Remnick is hardly the worst example of this; in fact, he perfectly represents a certain slice of the political class. He is a man who is intelligent but not wise, who is dogmatic even as he has convinced himself he is a model of objectivity. To be rigidly ideological is bad enough; to be so blind to it is even worse.

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Did Perry Just Boost His 2016 Chances?

Few Republicans have been more consistent or louder in their opposition to President Obama than Texas Governor Rick Perry. But if Perry’s ability to seize the spotlight as the focal point of opposition to the president’s policies in the wake of the border crisis has suddenly thrust him back into the conversation about 2016, he can thank the man who currently works in the Oval Office.

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Few Republicans have been more consistent or louder in their opposition to President Obama than Texas Governor Rick Perry. But if Perry’s ability to seize the spotlight as the focal point of opposition to the president’s policies in the wake of the border crisis has suddenly thrust him back into the conversation about 2016, he can thank the man who currently works in the Oval Office.

Perry has made no secret of his desire for another run at the White House that would, if nothing else, create a different epitaph for a heretofore-brilliant political career. Nobody wants to exit the stage as a laughingstock, which is the only word that adequately describes his performance on the stump and especially in the numerous debates that shaped the prelude to the 2012 GOP primaries. His gaffes, bizarre memory lapses (Perry’s picture should appear in the dictionary next to the word “oops”), and general lack of readiness for prime time doomed him after he appeared to be the frontrunner in the first weeks after his entry in to the race. But while you never get a second chance to make a first impression, the ongoing drama along the Rio Grande has afforded Perry an opportunity to recast his image.

The debacle along the border with Mexico is a nightmare for the Obama administration for two reasons.

One is that it’s obvious that Republicans have a point when they charge that the president’s statements about immigration reform directly caused the surge of illegals, including a vast number of unaccompanied minors that must now be housed and fed by the federal government. Immigration reform is necessary but conservatives who feared that promises about letting illegals stay or even get a path to citizenship would set off another wave of undocumented aliens heading to the U.S. were right. And though criticisms of efforts to legalize the so-called “dreamers”—people who entered this country without permission as children—seemed churlish, the arrival of all those minors from Central America in Texas undermines arguments for that reform.

The other problem is that rather than embrace his responsibility to deal with this debacle, President Obama has chosen avoidance and a characteristic emphasis on partisan politics. Most of the criticism about his behavior has centered on his refusal to visit the border even though he was headed to political fundraisers in Texas this week. This raised comparisons to President Bush’s flyby over New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. But the president’s refusal to be accountable for the problem and his insistence on vain efforts to shift the public’s focus back to Republican opposition to immigration reform with partisan dog-and-pony shows have only made things worse.

But Obama’s peril was Perry’s opportunity and the Texas governor seized on the bad optics to become the most visible Republican in the debate this week. He demanded that Obama visit the border but then got a face-to-face meeting with the president instead. At that meeting, he emerged looking like the more serious of the two leaders as Obama joked and evaded while Perry stayed on message and sounded constructive.

Thus, at a time when no one has emerged as a true frontrunner in the 2016 GOP race, Perry was able to use a national concern to edge his way from the margins of the contest back to the center ring.

One good week doesn’t make a campaign, but his ability to use the bully pulpit of his position to become the leading GOP voice critiquing administration failures was impressive. It’s the sort of thing that will remind Republicans of why they thought he was a credible presidential candidate before he opened his mouth at the debates and made a fool of himself. This will allow Perry to underline his claims that his bad performance in the fall of 2011 was due to the aftermath of back surgery and inexperience on the national stage rather than unsuitability for high office.

It’s also ironic that Perry would boost his comeback by latching onto immigration as his key issue since it was on that point that Mitt Romney slaughtered him. While Romney was the putative moderate in the race and handicapped by his Massachusetts health-care bill that helped inspire ObamaCare, he was able to shift to the right on immigration and make Perry look squishy because of his support for in-state tuition rates for dreamers.

Can Perry really catapult himself into the first tier of GOP candidates on the strength of his border standoff with Obama? Maybe. Perry can’t help but be better than he was last time and it’s possible that a more focused and professional campaign will create a whole new image for him. But Republicans are right to be skeptical. He’ll be up against a new and probably even tougher bunch of opponents next time and Perry’s weaknesses on the stump were not illusions. While presidential candidates—especially Republicans—often improve on their second try for the office, that usually happens after being the runner-up or at least having a decent showing. They rarely shoot to the top after such a disastrous first run.

Perry remains a long shot for 2016 who is just as likely to be eclipsed by fellow Texan Ted Cruz or the host of promising new GOP candidates. But what happened this week did change the country’s impression of the governor. For the moment at least, Perry has emerged from the shadow of “oops.”

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Obama’s Psychological Tapestry

We’re facing a humanitarian crisis on our southern border, caused in very large part by the president’s June 2012 order halting the deportation of young illegal immigrants. (The number of children who have surged across the border in the last eight months is ten times what it was in 2012.) And what is the president’s response? “Barack Obama goes after Republicans on immigration,” according to a Politico headline. Over at hotair.com Noah Rothman does a nice job documenting the president’s blame shifting. And an exasperated House Speaker John Boehner said on Thursday, “He’s been president for five-and-a-half years. When’s he going to take responsibility for something?”

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We’re facing a humanitarian crisis on our southern border, caused in very large part by the president’s June 2012 order halting the deportation of young illegal immigrants. (The number of children who have surged across the border in the last eight months is ten times what it was in 2012.) And what is the president’s response? “Barack Obama goes after Republicans on immigration,” according to a Politico headline. Over at hotair.com Noah Rothman does a nice job documenting the president’s blame shifting. And an exasperated House Speaker John Boehner said on Thursday, “He’s been president for five-and-a-half years. When’s he going to take responsibility for something?”

It looks very much like the answer is never. And the reason may well lie in Mr. Obama’s psychological makeup. Let me explain what I mean.

Early on with Mr. Obama, I assumed his chronic finger pointing was simply cynical. It may be that in part, but it seems to me to be more than that. It’s one thread in a larger psychological tapestry.

The president is a man who has a grandiose sense of himself, a very strong sense of entitlement, and is, even for a politician, unusually prickly and self-pitying. He is blind to the damage he’s doing and the failures he’s amassed. His self-conception–pragmatic, empirical, non-ideological, self-reflective, willing to listen to and work with others, intellectually honest, competent at governing–is at odds with reality. Mr. Obama is constantly projecting his own weaknesses onto his political opponents. There are never any honest differences with Obama; he is always impugning the motives of his critics–they put “party ahead of country”–while presenting his own motives as being as pure as the new-driven snow. And whatever goes wrong on his watch is always the result of someone or something else. There’s a kind of impressive consistency to Obama’s blame game. It never rests, and it applies to every conceivable circumstance.

Mr. Obama also has the habit of increasing his mockery of his political opponents as his own ineptness is exposed. Which explains why so often these days Obama’s public remarks are the equivalent of playground taunts. Ridicule and sarcasm are vehicles for Obama to vent his frustrations and externalize his failures. (It’s cheaper than weekly therapy sessions.)

What all these things in combination result in is an inability to adjust to circumstances and self-correct. There’s a marked rigidity, a lack of cognitive flexibility, in Mr. Obama. He has to be right, he is always right, and so (for example) the president can declare earlier this year–with a straight face–that the Affordable Care Act is “is working the way it should.”

Some of Obama’s personality traits and emotional characteristics were fairly obvious early on; others have emerged front and center during the course of his presidency. In some ways, the most comparable modern president to Obama is Richard Nixon. That is to say, Nixon’s presidency was powerfully defined by, and ultimately undone by, Nixon’s psychological flaws, including his paranoia and insecurities.

Mr. Obama’s personality profile is quite different, and in some important respects healthier, than was Nixon’s. But not in every respect. Mr. Nixon, for example, was less prone to create and live in a make believe world than Mr. Obama. (It’s impossible to imagine Nixon believing, as Obama does, that Russian President Vladimir Putin’s lightning-like seizure of Crimea and destabilization of Ukraine, combined with Russia’s major new presence in the Middle East, were evidence of Putin acting “out of weakness, not out of strength.”) And vanity, which helps explain Obama’s adamantine approach, was not nearly as much of an issue for Nixon.

Every presidency ends differently, and Obama’s will not end like Nixon’s did. But it will not end well. And as happened with Nixon, people will look back at the Obama presidency and see just how much Mr. Obama’s psychological landscape–how he sees himself and how he sees the world–contributed to his undoing.

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The Immigrant Family Unification Ruse

According to the Migration Policy Institute, “family unification” accounts for the largest number of applicants seeking “lawful permanent residence” in the United States. And the League of Women Voters notes that “Since 1965, between 50 and 70 percent of U.S. immigrant visas distributed annually have been allotted to close family members of U.S. citizens and legal permanent residents.” And here is the State Department explaining eligibility and procedures for family reunification.

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According to the Migration Policy Institute, “family unification” accounts for the largest number of applicants seeking “lawful permanent residence” in the United States. And the League of Women Voters notes that “Since 1965, between 50 and 70 percent of U.S. immigrant visas distributed annually have been allotted to close family members of U.S. citizens and legal permanent residents.” And here is the State Department explaining eligibility and procedures for family reunification.

One of the reasons why so many citizens of Latin American countries are now sending their unaccompanied children illegally and at great danger is the belief that not only will they be able to stay in the United States should they successfully cross the border, but once here, they will also be regularized and able to sponsor for humanitarian reasons family members’ entrance into the United States.

All sides of the immigration debate can agree that the current crisis along the Mexican border is reflective of a broken system, and activists in both the Democratic and Republican parties want to fix the problem, although they disagree starkly in how they would do this.

I wrote before about the lessons reformers can learn from Australia, whose transparent but no-nonsense policy discourages economic migrants who would risk their lives with human smugglers who prey on the desperate. Perhaps the first of these lessons should be to dispense with family unification visas. After all, there are two ways to unify families: One is to bring them into the United States, but the other is to simply tell the immigrant to hop a flight back to the country in which their extended family resides.

There are real reasons why the United States should encourage immigration: It infuses new blood into U.S. society. Legal immigrants can bring skills and investment that benefits the United States economy rather than acts as a drain upon it. The United States was founded as a beacon of liberty, and so it should pride itself on standing up for those who face persecution for their political or religious beliefs.

It should not, however, allow its generosity to be abused. Cohesive, coherent families are important, but travel need not be one way. If immigrants want to visit parents, children, siblings, or cousins, perhaps it’s time to point out that flights leave daily for every Central American capital and many other cities, and that the cost of a ticket is far less than the cost of transferring whole families from these lands into the United States.

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Does Immigration Crisis Merit Australian Solution?

Australia has long been a destination for illegal immigration (aborigines might date the problem back even farther) because of its stability, freedom, and wealth. Over the past few decades, Iraqis, Kurds, Afghans, Pakistanis, Iranian, and Indochinese often contracted with unscrupulous traffickers to be smuggled in horrendous conditions and unsafe vessels to the shores of Australia, where they would immediately claim asylum. Many drowned en route.

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Australia has long been a destination for illegal immigration (aborigines might date the problem back even farther) because of its stability, freedom, and wealth. Over the past few decades, Iraqis, Kurds, Afghans, Pakistanis, Iranian, and Indochinese often contracted with unscrupulous traffickers to be smuggled in horrendous conditions and unsafe vessels to the shores of Australia, where they would immediately claim asylum. Many drowned en route.

As illegal immigration increased, a bipartisan array of Australian politicians banded together and, in 1992, passed a Migration Amendment Act. It called for the mandatory detention of all illegal immigrants (as well as those who arrived illegally and overstayed their visas). Because the costs of detention can be high, the Act also authorized the Australian government to assign “detention debts” to those processed to reimburse the cost of their detention. When possible, the Australian government issues “bridging visas” to those in Australia illegally but who are not considered flight risks. This legalizes their stay until their status is resolved or they are ordered to depart.

The Australian government reserved special treatment for those who sought actively to bypass border controls, such as those who arrived by boat. Much more detailed information can be found here.

As illegal immigration increased after 2001, the Howard government initiated a policy of off-shore processing, the so-called “Pacific Solution.” First, the Australian government changed the law so that arrival in territories of Australia like Christmas Island, Ashmore and Cartier Islands, and the Cocos (Keeling) Islands no longer translated into a right to migrate onward to Australia proper. Those who arrived in these islands, or who were intercepted at sea, were instead transferred to other facilities outside Australia, such as in Nauru and Manus Island in Papua New Guinea. The Australian government provided substantial aid to both countries in order to play host to the migrants. While human-rights groups have criticized the detention camp in Nauru, its substandard physical condition should not mean condemnation of off-shore processing and placement. Rather, if the camp is problematic, the solution is simply to improve the camp. As word spreads to illegal migrants that they cannot sponsor the visas of family members under a reunion policy, nor will they even make it to Australia proper, then the incentive to risk their lives at sea decreases. The Australians even maintain an online status sheet which shows at regular intervals the numbers of migrants intercepted at sea and transferred to detention facilities outside Australia.

President Obama does not want a fence, and is unwilling to enforce the border. Immigration is fuel to American society, but illegal immigration makes a mockery of the process and undercuts integration into society. The result of the current lack of enforcement is a humanitarian tragedy with the worst in society preying on migrant children, a public health nightmare, and a breakdown of law and order.

Perhaps until Congress can find a solution to the problem of illegal aliens or undocumented migrants or whatever the politically correct phrase du jour is, it might be worthwhile to look toward our allies Down Under to find an interim model that actually works. And, I hear Guam is nice this time of year and so is Wake Island, and perhaps regional states like Haiti would take illegal immigrants in exchange for greater foreign assistance.

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Cantor’s Loss and the Search for a Unified Field Theory

There’s no question that the defeat of House Majority Leader Eric Cantor was a significant, even unprecedented, political event. As the Washington Post put it, “Historians said that no House leader of Cantor’s rank had ever been defeated in a primary.”

It’s not surprising, then, that there’s been an avalanche of commentary attempting to explain why Mr. Cantor was defeated. Some have argued it was because of his stand on immigration. Others said the majority leader was too closely identified with Wall Street and the GOP “establishment.” Still others argued that Cantor had lost touch with his constituents. Ron Fournier suggests that Cantor’s defeat may signal a “populist revolution.” Mr. Cantor’s pollster, John McLaughlin, says the race was decided by Democratic voters.

Each of these things may well have contributed to the outcome of the race. Or perhaps only some of them. Here’s the thing, though: We’ll never really know, given the limited post-election data we have to examine; and we certainly won’t know how much weight to give (if any at all) to Cantor’s stance on immigration v. the perception that he’s too closely tied with business interests v. the sense among some of his constituents that he had grown aloof.

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There’s no question that the defeat of House Majority Leader Eric Cantor was a significant, even unprecedented, political event. As the Washington Post put it, “Historians said that no House leader of Cantor’s rank had ever been defeated in a primary.”

It’s not surprising, then, that there’s been an avalanche of commentary attempting to explain why Mr. Cantor was defeated. Some have argued it was because of his stand on immigration. Others said the majority leader was too closely identified with Wall Street and the GOP “establishment.” Still others argued that Cantor had lost touch with his constituents. Ron Fournier suggests that Cantor’s defeat may signal a “populist revolution.” Mr. Cantor’s pollster, John McLaughlin, says the race was decided by Democratic voters.

Each of these things may well have contributed to the outcome of the race. Or perhaps only some of them. Here’s the thing, though: We’ll never really know, given the limited post-election data we have to examine; and we certainly won’t know how much weight to give (if any at all) to Cantor’s stance on immigration v. the perception that he’s too closely tied with business interests v. the sense among some of his constituents that he had grown aloof.

This will not, of course, keep political commentators from instantly and authoritatively interpreting the outcome of the race, often in ways that advance their own pre-existing views. (If you’re a critic of “comprehensive immigration reform,” for example, you’re probably more likely to interpret Cantor’s loss as a result of him holding views at odds with your own.) What I’ve learned over the years is that what will soon emerge is a perceived wisdom, which may be largely baseless but will nevertheless be important. Important because lessons that are incomplete or wrong, when internalized, still influence how people act.

So let’s assume for the sake of the argument that Cantor’s stance on immigration was a contributing but not an overriding factor in his loss. Yet if the post-election “narrative” is that his approach on illegal immigration cost Cantor his seat–if that is seen as the dominant issue–that is what other Republicans will take away from the race. And they will adjust to what they think reality is, whether or not it happens to be true.

There’s a natural human tendency to interpret things in life, including in political life, in somewhat superficial ways. Nuances and subtleties give way to simplistic explanations. That happens a lot in politics; and I imagine it’ll be amplified in this instance. Because the bigger the event, the greater the temptation to produce a Unified Field Theory. Such theories can often be interesting and creative; but usually they are mistaken. And that actually matters.

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The Mann/Ornstein Thesis Is Even Worse Than It Looks

In 2012, When Thomas Mann and Norm Ornstein published their book, It’s Even Worse Than It Looks, primarily blaming Republicans for congressional gridlock, they began a campaign of writing op-eds laying out their thesis in various political publications. The two complained, however, that none of the political talk shows wanted to have them on to sell the book. As they told the Washington Post:

“Not a single one of the Sunday shows has indicated an interest, and I do find it curious,” Ornstein told me, adding that the Op ed (sic) had well over 200,000 Facebook recommends and has been viral for weeks. “This is a level of attention for a book that we haven’t received before. You would think it would attract some attention from the Sunday shows.’

Over 200,00 Facebook recommendations and still no takers on the Sunday shows! But in fact it wasn’t so strange. The thesis they laid out in column after column was just plain wrong, and unambiguously so. It might have sold books and fooled the occasional liberal commentator, but those who worked in Washington had at least a basic knowledge of congressional politics, which was all that was needed to know Mann and Ornstein were peddling nonsense on stilts.

In the last couple of weeks, we got additional reminders of that. First came the revelation that Democratic Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, after having effectively dismantled the filibuster, was removing yet one more way for the minority party to have any participation in the legislating process: blocking amendments on a bipartisan bill. Reid’s well-established role in perpetuating congressional gridlock is easy enough to disregard for partisans fully committed to their own blissful ignorance.

Enter Thomas Mann. On Monday he published a long piece at the Atlantic in which he continued pushing his long-debunked thesis. Unfortunately for Mann, today we received yet another indication–this time from President Obama himself–that the talks shows that ignored Mann and Ornstein were doing their viewers a favor. This time the subject was immigration reform.

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In 2012, When Thomas Mann and Norm Ornstein published their book, It’s Even Worse Than It Looks, primarily blaming Republicans for congressional gridlock, they began a campaign of writing op-eds laying out their thesis in various political publications. The two complained, however, that none of the political talk shows wanted to have them on to sell the book. As they told the Washington Post:

“Not a single one of the Sunday shows has indicated an interest, and I do find it curious,” Ornstein told me, adding that the Op ed (sic) had well over 200,000 Facebook recommends and has been viral for weeks. “This is a level of attention for a book that we haven’t received before. You would think it would attract some attention from the Sunday shows.’

Over 200,00 Facebook recommendations and still no takers on the Sunday shows! But in fact it wasn’t so strange. The thesis they laid out in column after column was just plain wrong, and unambiguously so. It might have sold books and fooled the occasional liberal commentator, but those who worked in Washington had at least a basic knowledge of congressional politics, which was all that was needed to know Mann and Ornstein were peddling nonsense on stilts.

In the last couple of weeks, we got additional reminders of that. First came the revelation that Democratic Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, after having effectively dismantled the filibuster, was removing yet one more way for the minority party to have any participation in the legislating process: blocking amendments on a bipartisan bill. Reid’s well-established role in perpetuating congressional gridlock is easy enough to disregard for partisans fully committed to their own blissful ignorance.

Enter Thomas Mann. On Monday he published a long piece at the Atlantic in which he continued pushing his long-debunked thesis. Unfortunately for Mann, today we received yet another indication–this time from President Obama himself–that the talks shows that ignored Mann and Ornstein were doing their viewers a favor. This time the subject was immigration reform.

Today’s edition of the New York Times reports that President Obama “has directed the secretary of Homeland Security to delay until after the summer a deportation enforcement review that officials feared would anger House Republicans and doom any lingering hopes for an immigration overhaul in Congress this year, officials said Tuesday night.” The president was contemplating, once again, taking executive action that would preempt Congress on immigration.

Obama’s habit of using executive action has consistently undermined congressional lawmaking authority–the kind of thing that those who are truly concerned about a “broken Congress” would be up in arms about. Those obsessed with blaming Republicans for everything, however, have forgiven such action because they have chosen sides in a partisan battle. (Which is certainly their right, of course.) Obama did this once before: heading into his reelection, he torpedoed Marco Rubio’s bipartisan immigration reform with executive action to keep the issue alive for his party’s base.

And all indications were that he would do so again. His congressional allies such as Chuck Schumer were openly threatening Republicans that if they didn’t pass a bill the White House liked within a defined period, the president would take executive action again. Having killed immigration reform twice now (once as senator, to the chagrin of Ted Kennedy, and once as president), Obama seems hesitant to do so yet again.

But more than that, he’s also making clear that he understands that such executive action–and the threats that come with it, even implicit ones like the deportation review–only serve to further grind Congress to a halt and impede the business of legislating public policy. And so he’s backing off this time.

This argument may sound like it goes around in circles, but actually Mann’s latest contribution is quite revealing. While President Obama thinks the solution to partisan deadlock is to stop impeding bipartisan legislation and enable the two sides the space to find common ground–which they’ve already done on this issue–Mann thinks the solution is:

Perhaps more promising are approaches that focus directly on the parties as they exist within our constitutional system. One-party government seems an essential first step, one that can sustain itself in office long enough to put in place and begin to implement a credible governing program. The second is nudging the Republican Party back into being a genuinely conservative, not radical, party that aspires to win presidential as well as congressional elections over the long haul. The third is dampening the intense and unrelenting competition for control of Congress and the White House, which is itself an historical anomaly.

That’s right–one-party rule, which he makes clear would be the Democrats. During the time when the Democratic Party can do whatever it wants with no accountable check on power save the high court, Republicans would be “nudged” to … become more like Democrats. That would be followed by the “dampening” of electoral competition.

Welcome to the brave new world of Thomas Mann, where a balance of power is replaced by hundreds of immensely powerful lawmakers who agree with him. Maybe if he phrases it that way he’ll get those TV invitations he’s been waiting for.

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Anti-Semitism at Islamic Conference: a Wakeup Call for Europe?

What would it take for the Europeans to face up to the ever more belligerent degrees of anti-Semitism coming from parts of that continent’s Muslim population? Disturbing reports have emerged about certain anti-Jewish comments made by speakers at one of Europe’s most important Islamic conferences. Writing in Le Figaro Michele Tribalat recounted some of the statements made at the congress of the Union of Islamic Organizations in France, which convened in Paris on Wednesday. The most disturbing statements came from “guest of honor” Hani Ramadan, a prominent Muslim leader in Geneva and the brother of Tariq Ramadan.

Before the delegates Ramadan insisted in his speech that, “All the evil in the world originates from the Jews and the Zionist barbarism.” In his speech Ramadan listed places of conflict across the world and claimed that these wars are being driven by the “hand” of Zionism. Similarly, the audience was informed that Jews control the media and that in America and France no one can be elected to the presidency without first pandering to Jewish organizations. Ramadan was good enough to concede, however, that Europe’s “financial lobbies that practice usury…no longer rely only on Jews.”

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What would it take for the Europeans to face up to the ever more belligerent degrees of anti-Semitism coming from parts of that continent’s Muslim population? Disturbing reports have emerged about certain anti-Jewish comments made by speakers at one of Europe’s most important Islamic conferences. Writing in Le Figaro Michele Tribalat recounted some of the statements made at the congress of the Union of Islamic Organizations in France, which convened in Paris on Wednesday. The most disturbing statements came from “guest of honor” Hani Ramadan, a prominent Muslim leader in Geneva and the brother of Tariq Ramadan.

Before the delegates Ramadan insisted in his speech that, “All the evil in the world originates from the Jews and the Zionist barbarism.” In his speech Ramadan listed places of conflict across the world and claimed that these wars are being driven by the “hand” of Zionism. Similarly, the audience was informed that Jews control the media and that in America and France no one can be elected to the presidency without first pandering to Jewish organizations. Ramadan was good enough to concede, however, that Europe’s “financial lobbies that practice usury…no longer rely only on Jews.”

The fact that these statements could come from such an apparently prominent speaker at such an important Islamic conference surely says something about currents in the wider Muslim community. With such sentiments being bandied around from the podiums of high-profile Islamic conferences, is it any wonder that across Europe there has been such a rise in Muslim hate crime against Jews? In America, liberal Jews have often refused to a hear a word of it. They look at you with wary suspicion if you dare to suggest that Muslims have played a significant part in the upward trend of European anti-Semitism. Even after the harrowing 2012 shootings at a Jewish school in Toulouse and the uncovering of a number of similar anti-Jewish terror plots, many liberals in America seemed to assume that there must be some anti-Muslim prejudice at work on the part of anyone who tried to highlight this phenomenon.

Then last fall the European Union released its own comprehensive survey of anti-Semitism and the figures spoke for themselves. In France, 73 percent of those who reported having experienced anti-Semitism said that it came from what the survey termed “someone with a Muslim extremist view.” Just 22 percent said they had witnessed anti-Semitism from a “Christian extremist” and 27 percent said they had seen it coming from someone with a “right-wing political view.” For what its worth, 67 percent of those surveyed in France said they had heard anti-Semitism coming from someone on the left.

Such trends should hardly be surprising. In recent years Britain has had to deal with the phenomenon of anti-Jewish and hardline Saudi textbooks being used in Muslim education programs for young children. This culture of anti-Jewish education then seems to continue all the way up to the universities, with Muslim student associations still hosting radical preachers who express views no different from those voiced by Ramadan at Wednesday’s conference. Is it any wonder, then, if some members of the Islamic community are ready to believe the most hallucinatory and outlandish conspiracy theories about Jews? And as Ramadan was sure to explain to his audience, “Against these international schemes of Zionist power, there is only one rampart: Islam.”

Given the scale of mass immigration into Europe, the process of acculturation was never going to be immediate or even entirely smooth. Yet, it often appears as if European governments have done less than nothing to westernize immigrant communities, in many instances having even encouraged a certain separateness, just as the doctrines of multiculturalism stipulate. After the horrors of World War Two Europe embraced a kind of post-national cosmopolitan tolerance that forbade calling out bigotry when it emanated from ethnic minorities. As Ed West has written, “the irony is that, out of collective guilt for what happened to Europe’s Jews, Europe imported millions of people from some of the world’s most anti-Semitic countries, [and] made no attempt to counter these prejudices.”

No doubt Ramadan’s comments will make some headlines and provoke some mutters of condemnation and concern, just as the European Union’s recent anti-Semitism survey did. But how many more Toulouse-style terror attacks will Europe go through before it is ready to contemplate getting serious? Perhaps it is incapable of ever doing so. 

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Immigration Debate Is Just Getting Started

Nearly every question of how a Republican politician’s stand will affect the 2016 presidential primaries must be qualified with “it depends who else runs.” And so it is with Jeb Bush’s comments on immigration. Although conservatives have more objections to Bush than on immigration, other issues–such as the Common Core, for example–just don’t have the visibility the immigration issue does. Nor do those other issues have the legislative and policy relevance of immigration: the Senate, after all, did pass an immigration reform bill.

Additionally, immigration arguably played a greater role than any other specific issue in sifting wheat from chaff in the 2012 Republican primaries. There were other factors, but it seems clear that Rick Perry was at least damaged by his comments on immigration–that if you don’t support in-state tuition for the children of illegal immigrations “I don’t think you have a heart.” Bush’s comment–that such migration is “an act of love”–has been compared to Perry’s, and it’s also similar to a far better phrased version of the argument put forth by Newt Gingrich, who put it in terms of separating families. And we got a preview of how Bush’s comments might be countered in a 2016 version of those debates from Ted Cruz, in an interview with CNN’s Jake Tapper:

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Nearly every question of how a Republican politician’s stand will affect the 2016 presidential primaries must be qualified with “it depends who else runs.” And so it is with Jeb Bush’s comments on immigration. Although conservatives have more objections to Bush than on immigration, other issues–such as the Common Core, for example–just don’t have the visibility the immigration issue does. Nor do those other issues have the legislative and policy relevance of immigration: the Senate, after all, did pass an immigration reform bill.

Additionally, immigration arguably played a greater role than any other specific issue in sifting wheat from chaff in the 2012 Republican primaries. There were other factors, but it seems clear that Rick Perry was at least damaged by his comments on immigration–that if you don’t support in-state tuition for the children of illegal immigrations “I don’t think you have a heart.” Bush’s comment–that such migration is “an act of love”–has been compared to Perry’s, and it’s also similar to a far better phrased version of the argument put forth by Newt Gingrich, who put it in terms of separating families. And we got a preview of how Bush’s comments might be countered in a 2016 version of those debates from Ted Cruz, in an interview with CNN’s Jake Tapper:

“We need to be a nation that welcomes and celebrates legal immigrants, people who follow the rules, and come here according to the law,” said Cruz in response.

“Rule of law matters. And if you look at any sovereign nation, securing your border is critically important,” said the freshman lawmaker.

“We need to solve the problem to secure the borders and then improve and streamline legal immigration so people can come to America consistent with the rule of law,” said Cruz.

Cruz’s response is not particularly controversial, though it’s clear he’s less concerned about fixing America’s legal immigration system–which is an unholy mess–than about securing the border. Both are important: in the age of asymmetric warfare, it makes no sense to have an unsecured border; and the current restrictions and layers of red tape on immigration are artificially distorting the market for labor and creating a black market–as overregulation almost always does–to fill the demand.

More relevant to 2016 than this argument–which goes round and round, and round again–is what it indicates about the various actors involved. And it confirms the pattern we’ve seen from Ted Cruz on his strategy for the primary contest. Cruz has not taken to promoting major reform legislation or “owning” an issue such as it is. Instead, he moves with alacrity to position himself slightly closer to the party’s grassroots when such reform is proposed.

There’s nothing objectionable about the strategy. Cruz is not required to churn out white papers or author major reform legislation, and if he does run for president he’ll do so anyway. It might not be on immigration, but in all likelihood a Cruz candidacy would include a tax plan at the very least. What the strategy is allowing Cruz to do is take the temperature of the party’s grassroots as the 2016 picture fills out.

Cruz has deployed the strategy against the candidate who would probably be his closest rival for grassroots voters, Rand Paul. When the Kentucky senator staged his famous filibuster over drones to the applause of conservatives (and a few non-conservatives as well), Cruz joined him on the chamber floor for the assist. But Paul’s response to the crisis in Ukraine was too tepid for Cruz, who staked out vague but more interventionist ground:

“I’m a big fan of Rand Paul. He and I are good friends. But I don’t agree with him on foreign policy,” Cruz said. “I think U.S. leadership is critical in the world. And I agree with him that we should be very reluctant to deploy military force abroad. But I think there is a vital role, just as Ronald Reagan did… The United States has a responsibility to defend our values.”

Cruz portrays the difference between him and Paul as a philosophical one, which is why, as I’ve argued in the past, foreign policy is likely to be a more prominent point of contention in the 2016 GOP primary season than it was in 2012. As Jeb Bush’s comments showed, the contentious domestic issue is likely to be immigration, which is why, no matter how stalled in the House immigration legislation remains, it’s an argument that will only get louder between now and 2016.

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Europe Tilts Right on Immigration

Last night riot police had to be dispatched to disperse angry crowds in some of the French towns where the far-right National Front has been voted into power. While FN leader Marine Le Pen claims to have gone to considerable lengths to rid her party of the open anti-Semitism and xenophobia that marred its image under her father’s leadership, many remain skeptical about how much of an integral change has really taken place within the FN.

Yet for the first time since 1995 Le Pen’s party has mayors back in office, having won control of 11 towns in the local elections held this weekend. Indeed, from having just 60 councilors the party has jumped to some 12,000 as of the latest elections. This surge may become a familiar pattern in Europe, for amidst worsening economic conditions throughout many European countries, observers acknowledge a revival of far-right and neo-fascist forces, most notably with parties such as Jobbik in Hungary or Golden Dawn in Greece.

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Last night riot police had to be dispatched to disperse angry crowds in some of the French towns where the far-right National Front has been voted into power. While FN leader Marine Le Pen claims to have gone to considerable lengths to rid her party of the open anti-Semitism and xenophobia that marred its image under her father’s leadership, many remain skeptical about how much of an integral change has really taken place within the FN.

Yet for the first time since 1995 Le Pen’s party has mayors back in office, having won control of 11 towns in the local elections held this weekend. Indeed, from having just 60 councilors the party has jumped to some 12,000 as of the latest elections. This surge may become a familiar pattern in Europe, for amidst worsening economic conditions throughout many European countries, observers acknowledge a revival of far-right and neo-fascist forces, most notably with parties such as Jobbik in Hungary or Golden Dawn in Greece.

In with this evident rise of nationalistic and anti-immigration parties some choose to include the improving fortunes of the United Kingdom Independence Party in Britain. Writing for the Gatestone Institute, Peter Martino draws a direct comparison between Le Pen’s FN and Nigel Farage’s UKIP, noting that in both cases these parties have been able to exploit growing public dissatisfaction with the liberal ruling elite and the lackluster politics of the governing class. While UKIP is certainly an expression of a populist conservative backlash, it would be wrong to group it in with the far-right parties on the march in mainland Europe.

As with the first time that Europe was convulsed by the rallying of far-right and fascist movements, the impetus has been primarily economic. No doubt today’s far-right parties feed on general dissatisfaction with the multiculturalist policies promoted by Europe’s metropolitan politicians, but much of the anti-immigrant animus is undoubtedly being driven by dizzying levels of unemployment. In France unemployment exceeds three million where just 40 percent of the population has work. Socialist France has not run a surplus since 1974; it is unsurprising, then, that President Hollande, with his 75 percent top tax rate, is disliked by a record three-quarters of voters.

The New Yorker’s Alexander Stille has implied that the weekend’s election results stem from a failure of Hollande’s party to reform its socialist ways. Yet in casting their votes for the National Front, those who did so were hardly going for a more free-market option. Just like the populist right-wing parties of the past, Le Pen claims that her party is neither left nor right. When it comes to economic matters the FN is both undeniably protectionist and essentially anti-capitalist. Le Pen has actually called for still higher state investment and backs government control over everything from energy to financial services. And like other far-right European parties, such as Austria’s Freedom Party, the French National Front is vocally hostile to globalization.

Peter Martino does give recognition to the differing stance that FN and UKIP take on economic matters, but this difference is far more fundamental than might be initially apparent. UKIP has increasingly been stressing itself as the party of liberty, perhaps seeking to imitate at least some of the sentiments popular in the Tea Party. Its primary quarrel with the EU appears to be a democracy-oriented one; that Brussels’s bureaucracy is draining sovereignty from the British parliament and its electorate. More so than even the Conservative party, UKIP is presenting itself as the party of private enterprise and small business. Many in both the UKIP leadership and the rank and file have taken to describing themselves as libertarian–although one gets the impression that they don’t quite understand the term in the same way that Americans do. In many respects UKIP is the most socially conservative political grouping in Britain, the only major party to take a stand against the recent implementation of gay marriage. 

While UKIP has voiced opposition to multicultualism, as well as to the political correctness that surrounds it, the party’s calls for reducing immigration levels seem not to be motivated by the xenophobia that its detractors allege. UKIP has won voters by condemning the mass flow of immigrants brought by the EU’s open border policy, but party spokespeople have emphasized that this isn’t a matter of race, claiming that they would much prefer to see highly skilled immigrants coming to Britain from other parts of the world than unskilled workers from Eastern and Southern Europe. Indeed, Farage has advocated leaving the EU on the grounds that Britain could then become more engaged with the global economy, a far cry from Le Pen’s protectionist anti-globalization.

Of course, both UKIP and the National Front expect significant wins in the upcoming EU elections, and both hope to expand their representation to their respective national parliaments at the first opportunity. Yet whereas anti-immigrant racism and anti-Semitism was very much the FN’s raison d’etre under Jean Marie Le Pen, it is not clear that this was ever the case for UKIP. As Martino also noted, UKIP refuses to ally with the FN so long as it has anti-Semites in its midst. Furthermore, in those instances where its own candidates have been exposed as racist they have been rapidly and unceremoniously ejected from the party. Across Europe the far-right may be benefiting from the economic difficulties currently marring the continent, but it would be wrong to throw Britain’s more liberty-oriented UKIP in with those parading neo-fascist tendencies.   

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Obama’s Priorities v. Those of the American People

President Obama has recently said that the trend of growing inequality is “certainly my highest priority.” He might be interested to know that it’s not the highest priority for the people he was voted to represent.

Not even close.

A new Gallup poll found the 10 most important issues facing the American people to be, in order, (1) unemployment/jobs; (2) economy in general; (3) government; (4) health care; (5) federal budget deficit/federal debt; (6) immigration/illegal aliens; (7) ethical/moral decline; (8) education; (9) lack of money; and (10) poverty/hunger/homelessness. Even among Democrats, income inequality doesn’t rate. Neither, by the way, does raising the minimum wage, climate change, and gun control–three other issues Mr. Obama has made central to his second-term agenda.

So why is the president talking about issues that the public has so little concern about?

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President Obama has recently said that the trend of growing inequality is “certainly my highest priority.” He might be interested to know that it’s not the highest priority for the people he was voted to represent.

Not even close.

A new Gallup poll found the 10 most important issues facing the American people to be, in order, (1) unemployment/jobs; (2) economy in general; (3) government; (4) health care; (5) federal budget deficit/federal debt; (6) immigration/illegal aliens; (7) ethical/moral decline; (8) education; (9) lack of money; and (10) poverty/hunger/homelessness. Even among Democrats, income inequality doesn’t rate. Neither, by the way, does raising the minimum wage, climate change, and gun control–three other issues Mr. Obama has made central to his second-term agenda.

So why is the president talking about issues that the public has so little concern about?

Part of the explanation, I suspect, is that Mr. Obama really believes in his (progressive) agenda and feels more liberated in his second term to pursue it. But I also imagine that the president has very little to say that’s helpful to him or his party about unemployment and jobs, the economy in general, health care, and the debt. So Mr. Obama is turning to other issues, hoping to shift the American people’s focus from what they care about to what he cares about.

This effort is turning out to be a bust. The public is tuning the president out and turning him off. His words are like white noise, and he increasingly looks to be a lame duck–one day impotent, the next day irrelevant, drifting along in a world of his own. 

Mr. Obama seems to think that as a second-term president, he can talk about what he darn well pleases. Maybe. We’ll see what the voters think about that in November, when they get their chance to render their judgment on his second term. 

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EU Shows Contempt for National Sovereignty, Democracy

Switzerland is not a member of the European Union, and so you might have thought that the outcome of a Swiss referendum would be none of Brussels’s business. Not so: the EU’s contempt for national sovereignty and the democratic process of individual states extends even to countries not locked into its project for a federalized Europe. Referendums usually turn out to be trouble for the EU; whenever the electorate of individual member states are given a say on adopting such things as the single currency or a treaty appropriating yet more powers from national parliaments to EU bureaucrats, they have a tiresome tendency of saying “no,” or “non” or “nee.” In which case the practice is usually to wait a few months before holding the referendum again and telling the voters to come back with the correct answer this time. For that reason, the people of Europe aren’t often asked their opinion on these matters.   

One aspect of the EU project that most Europeans seem to wish to give a resounding “no” to is the policy of open-border immigration. This is what the Swiss have voted against. Not that they want to have immigration stopped, but simply that they want to see it curbed and regulated in the coming years, as opposed to maintaining the current EU program of unrestricted immigration between European states. The problem here is that Switzerland has a number of trading agreements with the European Union, the price of which has been accepting Brussels’s enthusiasm for mass immigration.

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Switzerland is not a member of the European Union, and so you might have thought that the outcome of a Swiss referendum would be none of Brussels’s business. Not so: the EU’s contempt for national sovereignty and the democratic process of individual states extends even to countries not locked into its project for a federalized Europe. Referendums usually turn out to be trouble for the EU; whenever the electorate of individual member states are given a say on adopting such things as the single currency or a treaty appropriating yet more powers from national parliaments to EU bureaucrats, they have a tiresome tendency of saying “no,” or “non” or “nee.” In which case the practice is usually to wait a few months before holding the referendum again and telling the voters to come back with the correct answer this time. For that reason, the people of Europe aren’t often asked their opinion on these matters.   

One aspect of the EU project that most Europeans seem to wish to give a resounding “no” to is the policy of open-border immigration. This is what the Swiss have voted against. Not that they want to have immigration stopped, but simply that they want to see it curbed and regulated in the coming years, as opposed to maintaining the current EU program of unrestricted immigration between European states. The problem here is that Switzerland has a number of trading agreements with the European Union, the price of which has been accepting Brussels’s enthusiasm for mass immigration.

As punishment for daring to express an opinion out of line with reigning federalist doctrine, Eurocrats have been threatening all kinds of retaliation. Most prominently, the president of the European Parliament, Martin Shulz, has warned that Switzerland’s economic ties with the EU could be jeopardized if it decides to implement the will of its voters. Part of the reaction is no doubt out of fear that the Swiss vote could exacerbate existing sentiments in other European countries who would like a pause in the policy of unrestricted immigration. In Britain in particular, public pressure led government ministers to broach the idea of setting a cap on the number immigrants who could come to Britain–or at least claim welfare there–when Romania and Bulgaria joined the EU at the beginning of this year. Naturally, no such allowance was permitted by Brussels, which is curious, given that when Poland joined in 2004, Germany (usually such a staunch advocate of having a maximalist European superstate) defended its national interest and had immigration from Poland restricted.

The Swiss vote touches on two particularly sensitive issues for European federalists. First is the ardent belief in the abolition of nation-states through open-border policies, which by promoting mass migration ultimately deconstruct any sense of distinctive national identity between member countries. Second, and attached to this first program, comes the deep dislike of the democratic process for Europe in general and nation-states in particular. Democracy at the national level reinforces the idea that the elected parliaments of individual countries have a legitimate right to govern and claim sovereignty. More broadly, Eurocrats have a latent distrust of populism. They believe that they have divined the correct path for Europe’s shining future, a future that cannot be put at risk by the prejudices, petty interests, and backwardness of the public.

Switzerland’s citizens may think they know what immigration policy is best for their country. They’re wrong. This is another matter Brussels thinks it can decide for them.  

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