It was, as so many of them are, good. Say what you will, President Obama speaks and reads well.
And then, after a few hours, we realize that while the speech was great the action to follow is months in the offing, may very well turn out to be flawed, may never get off the planning boards. Alas, his record is not good. Think back only to the Affordable Care Act, the promises made for it, and the utter pandemonium that ensued when it was unveiled.
In the case of immigration reform, the outlines are much smaller but the difficulty in raising a new bureaucracy, and a new set of guidelines, is just as great.
As we understand it, nothing can begin to happen on the immigration front for 180 days after the first of the year. That means the Republican Congress has nearly eight months to do what the president suggested: send him a bill if they don’t like the one he’s proposed.
So, for critics who say if only Obama had waited a little longer, if only he’d given Congress until, say, June, to come up with its own immigration statute, he would have been apt to have been so much more successful. Well, Congress has that time and more.
Whether what Obama proposes, the way he proposed it, is constitutional, people will argue for the next few months or years, and get nowhere.
What does seem clear is that the Republicans’ curses against “amnesty” do not matter. This is not a bill that proposes amnesty. It proposes, in fact, some severe penalties and duties.
What should the Republicans do?
As we’ve heard, the comity that followed the recent election is non-existent, evaporated overnight.
What followed were threats about shutting the government down, holding all ambassadors’ nominations, all judgships, anything at all that resembled compromise or progress. We heard a little about carbon and coal, too, thanks to Mr. McConnell’s paymasters. A few around-the-edges minor legislative suggestions were also made. What seemed to become clearer as each day passed was that the Republicans liked where they were, believed in how they got there, and had no intention of doing anything that would change the perception of their party before 2016. They want to win.
And although the Republicans have, over and over again, announced that this is their opportunity to demonstrate to the country at large that it can in fact govern wisely and well, they don’t really want to.
They want to keep blaming the president for everything, including gridlock.
One avenue of response to the president’s challenge – “Send me a bill.” – is clearly a nonstarter. To do so would expose the Republicans as no wiser nor accomplished than the Democrats.
The Republicans’ best offense now seems to be no response at all. They can, if they choose, completely ignore the issue of immigrant status in the country. Six or eight months will pass. The President’s executive order will expire, and we’ll all be right back where we started. Nowhere. The Republicans can claim that the new executive order is outrageous and beneath contempt. They can sue to have it lifted. They can hold committee meetings daily for publicity and ensure that no progress towards compromise or solution is allowed. They can even, as some of their younger, more angry members insist, try the impeachment route. Which of course does not allow time or attention to the problem at all.
Obama’s speech was a good one. Uplifting and moral, sensible and small-bore. The country still faces a war in Afghanistan, an economy struggling to repair itself, college kids bankrupted by student loans, hungry millions cut off from food stamps. The “market” – that incessantly surging index of watching the rich get richer – is completely cut off from reality, but for gambling. There’s always the Keystone Pipeline to rally the troops, on either side. And we still have ISIS.
It’s a wonder Mr. Obama took to the podium at all with these other pressing issues before him. And, we say with tongue in our cheek, with so much of the nation behind him, far far behind. If he himself is blamed for leading from behind on so many fronts, why should the Republicans hurry to catch up and lead from in front?