Yesterday, President Obama said that he would push forward with a plan for immigration reform this year, but only if he had the backing of significant number of Republicans. That’s a wise strategy when dealing with any substantial issue. Too bad he didn’t use the same approach when trying to force the country to accept a massive government takeover of the health-care industry.
In a week when the president and his party are ignoring clear indications that the public isn’t interested in drinking health-care Kool-Aid, it’s ironic that they would approach immigration with such caution. It’s an issue on which there is at least as good a chance of forging a bipartisan compromise. It was, after all, only five years ago (though it feels more like 50 years) that President George W. Bush listed immigration reform as one of the top priorities of his second term. But opposition from the Republican grass roots doomed that attempt, while Democrats were reluctant about taking up a common cause with a president they despised and wished to bring down.
If Obama were truly serious about developing an immigration reform that would help to clarify the status of illegals and to reassert control over our borders, he’d find genuine support from many Republicans in Congress, as well as conservative opinion leaders like the Wall Street Journal editorial page. But part of the problem is the legacy of the last year of health-care politics. Sen. Lindsey Graham, a natural ally of the White House on immigration, warned Obama that, should he and his allies in Congress use legislative sleight-of-hand tricks to push a dubious health-care plan through, he can forget about others trusting the president to do the right thing on anything else.
Immigration reform is the sort of issue that would require genuine bipartisanship, as there are large anti-immigration factions in both parties. But despite his presidential campaign rhetoric about rising above partisanship, Obama’s energies have been most engaged when demonizing his domestic opponents. It remains to be seen whether Obama has the wisdom or the genuine leadership skills to succeed on immigration. Unfortunately, as his divisive health-care gambit has proved, this does not appear to be a president interested in genuine outreach across the aisle if it means actually listening to those who disagree with him.