It's ironic that one day after his reelection to a sixth term as senator from Kentucky, Mitch McConnell, the soon-to-be Senate majority leader, characterized the Congress as an angry, raging bull. In a stern, public admonition, McConnell warned President Obama against invoking executive action to alleviate our chronic immigration crisis, comparing such action to "waving a red flag in front of a bull."
Ironic and sinister. The Republican leadership, which gained control of the U.S. Senate in the November 4th election and now controls both houses, blocked all attempts at reasonable immigration reform during the most recent session of Congress. Then, they blamed the president for any and all immigration crises, including the arrival of thousands of women and children from Central America this past summer. Then, they accused the president of being weak/soft on immigration and as frustration set in, the president's numbers with Hispanics fell precipitously. Then, the day after their victory, the Republican leadership warned the president against taking much-needed action to solve our broken immigration system — action favored by the majority of Americans.
This script, written in Washington, seems to have emerged out of a Gabriel García Márquez novel.
President Obama has the opportunity to lead via executive action, and he should do so immediately. He can end deportation of those in the country under irregular circumstances, excluding, of course, those who have committed serious, violent crimes. Rolling through a stop sign should not be grounds for deportation. He can put in place a program whereby millions of people are offered authorization to remain in the country, if they wish. They could apply for work permits; they could pay taxes with greater ease, and live here — temporarily — in relative peace.
Obama's ratings with Hispanics dropped 20 percent during the past two years. People are frustrated by the lack of action on immigration reform, and they blame one man, the occupant of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, rather than Congress, with its many faces, multiple agendas, and 50 shades of long-term deception on the immigration issue.
Executive action on immigration is not what any of us had hoped for as the solution to our broken system. But it looks like it will happen, and any executive action can be signed away by the next executive. It's entirely possible the next executive will be a Republican, assuming Democrats behave as badly and awkwardly as they behaved in the most recent election cycle.
The most cited example involves McConnell's Kentucky opponent, Alison Lundergan Grimes, who wouldn't say whether she voted for Obama, when asked by reporters. It's not a trick question, and it's not an unfair question for a woman running as a Democrat for the United States Senate. Democrats lost (Grimes lost by 16 points) because they refused, in many places, to run as Democrats or to champion the many accomplishments of the past six years. Instead, they ran as lite, low-calorie Republicans, and many moderate Democrats and Independents simply voted for the real thing.
On immigration, Democrats need to hold together as a party and support a president who has very few options at this point. Democrats need to develop a short-term strategy to support those with irregular immigration status who want to live and work here. Then, the Democratic leadership needs to develop a long-term plan to win the White House in 2016, retake the Congress, and pass comprehensive immigration reform. Americans are demanding this type of activist, bold leadership. The American people are much further ahead of their political leaders on this issue, and when the Democratic Party realizes this, they'll return to power.
But it might be time for some new ideas within the Democratic leadership. Many pundits assume that Hillary Clinton is a lock for the Democratic nomination, but Clinton's glide-path to the White House is fraught with turbulence. Elizabeth Warren, the senior senator from Massachusetts, claims she's not running, but we'd like to see her energy, brilliance, fearlessness, charisma, and leadership in the White House.
Can the nation endure an actual liberal from Massachusetts in the White House? We know what we can't endure: the raging bull that's de rigueur in D.C. these days.
Exactly seven years ago this week, I wrote a column decrying a proposal by city engineers to turn the Overton Park Greensward into an 18-foot-deep "detention basin" designed to stop flooding in Midtown. The engineers claimed we'd hardly notice the football-field-sized bowl. "Except," I wrote then, "when it rains hard, at which time, users of Overton Park would probably notice a large, 18-foot-deep lake in the Greensward. Or afterward, a large, muddy, trash-filled depression."