President Obama, Emperor-in-Chief
Let’s say, only for argument’s sake, that President Obama is right about everything he said on immigration. Imagine that he’s right to sign an executive order that would allow millions of immigrants who came here illegally to stay here. Imagine that he's right to decree that immigrants who snuck into this country should now be allowed to come out of the shadows and not fear deportation. And let’s even imagine, again, only for argument’s sake, that everything President Obama says he will do is constitutional.
It’s still a terrible idea. After his party got whacked in the midterms the president said he wanted to work with Republicans. But he can’t possibly think that doing immigration his way is the best way to build bridges to the opposition. In a democracy, it matters how a president gets to where he wants to go; the route matters in a country like ours. President Obama took the wrong road.
Surely he has read the polls … the ones that say while most Americans want immigration reform just as he does, most Americans don't want him to take the law into his own hands, to go it alone, just because hard-line Republicans don't see things the way he does. That’s not how our system works, they were saying. We elected a president, not a despot – not even a supposedly well-meaning despot.
I’m guessing that what President Obama and his ego really want is to divert attention from the beating they took in the midterms. And what better way than to bait Republicans into doing something stupid – like shutting down the government or better yet, like raising the specter of impeachment. Then, the focus would be on them. They would be in the harsh spotlight – not the president or his party that got hammered on November 4. But my guess is Republicans won’t bite.
My guess is Republicans know that no matter how charitable the president sounded in his prime-time speech, no matter that he invoked scripture to make his case, the American people – who are compassionate themselves --will see through it.
If Barack Obama felt so strongly about the plight of immigrants who live in the shadows, why, they will wonder, did he do absolutely nothing about immigration when his party had control of both Houses of Congress for the first two years of his presidency? Oh yeah, they'll recall, he was too busy twisting arms and making back room deals to get ObamaCare passed to worry about all those poor illegal immigrants he now cares so much about.
Why did he wait until after the midterms to give his little sermon about doing the good and decent thing for hard-working immigrants? Well, he had to, didn't he? If he moved sooner to do right by those poor illegal immigrants, a few more Democrats might have been sent packing on Election Day. And he couldn't allow that to happen, now could he?
Americans will wonder why this president told them – over and over again – that he can’t simply sign an executive order; that in our country that’s not how things work; that he’s not an emperor ... and then went on national TV to announce that he would do everything he said he wouldn’t and couldn’t do.
Even low information voters will figure out that this isn’t about compassion so much as it is about politics. Barack Obama isn’t ready to throw in the towel. A messiah can’t let himself become a lame duck. So he still needs support from his base – progressives in general, Latinos in particular. The rest of his presidency is on the line. And so is his legacy.
But even if he wins back Latinos and other liberals who tired of him and sat out the midterm elections, I’m betting he’ll lose just about everybody else. America became a nation in the first place by revolting against a ruler who thought he could do whatever he wanted no matter how the people felt. If Americans are yearning for royalty to lead us now, I missed all the signs.
Nobody likes getting pummeled, as President Obama was in the midterms. Nobody likes believing he’s lost his influence, as President Obama clearly has. For a narcissist in politics, it must be especially painful to be seen as weakened, no longer the center of attention. So by flexing his muscles on immigration, Barack Obama sent out a message that, “I’m still in the game. I’m still relevant. I still matter.”
We’ll see. But I suspect Barack Obama is about to find out how most Americans feel about a president who behaves like the emperor he said he wasn’t. And I suspect he won’t like what he finds out.