Thursday, April 09, 2009


My first reaction when I saw in The New York Times that President Obama was going to take on immigration was that he's defiantly taking on every tough issue at once just because people say he shouldn't. But then I read the story, and I think there's less here than meets the eye:

...Mr. Obama plans to speak publicly about the issue in May, administration officials said, and over the summer he will convene working groups, including lawmakers from both parties and a range of immigration groups, to begin discussing possible legislation for as early as this fall.

Some White House officials said that immigration would not take precedence over the health care and energy proposals that Mr. Obama has identified as priorities. But the timetable is consistent with pledges Mr. Obama made to Hispanic groups in last year's campaign....

"Working groups"? "Possible legislation"? My guess is he's trying to fulfill his campaign pledge and put this on a slower track at the same time. I'd really be surprised if we get legislation this year.

In my fantasy version of the Obama presidency, this would be a sneaky bit of misdirection, meant to get the half-mad ranters of the right howling about amnesty while the immediate issues on the Obama agenda sail through. But that doesn't seem his style, and in any case it doesn't work that way -- the half-mad right-wingers (a group that apparently includes nearly all elected D.C. Republicans) do absolutely nothing right now except rant and rave, and there seems to be no limit on the number of Obama initiatives about which they can define the terms of the debate. (It's easy, of course, because everything Obama does can be defined as part of a grand move toward Marxism/fascism/the end of American civilization as we know it.)

Long-term, I don't think Obama is going to have any more luck with immigration than Bush did. People talk about Social Security as "the third rail of American politics," but I've never liked that definite article -- Social Security just one third rail. I fear health care is another. Immigration is certainly one.


Here's one interesting aspect of this:

Anticipating opposition, Mr. Obama has sought to shift some of the political burden to advocates for immigrants, by encouraging them to build support among voters for when his proposal goes to Congress.

That is why Representative Luis V. Gutierrez, a Democrat from Mr. Obama's hometown, Chicago, has been on the road most weekends since last December, traveling far outside his district to meetings in Hispanic churches, hoping to generate something like a civil rights movement in favor of broad immigration legislation....

Mr. Gutierrez’s meetings have all been held in churches, both evangelical and Roman Catholic, with clergy members from various denominations, including in several places Muslim imams. At one meeting in Chicago, Cardinal Francis George, president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, officiated.

Really? The same Cardinal Francis George who called Obama's invitation to speak at Notre Dame an "extreme embarrassment"?

Hmmm ... The Notre Dame speech is next month. I wonder if Obama is going to drop in some references to immigration reform, knowing that this is an issue that means a lot to Cardinal George and other church leaders who've attacked him on abortion.

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