Friday President Obama announced a long overdue decision to allow “dreamers” – young Latinos who were brought to the country at a very young age, have grown up and lived in the US most of their lives and do not know any country but the US – to avoid deportation, even if they are here illegally or without documents.
As President Obama put it:
“Put yourself in their shoes. Imagine you’ve done everything right your entire life, studied hard, worked hard, maybe even graduated at the top of your class, only to suddenly face the threat of deportation to a country that you know nothing about, with a language that you may not even speak….And I believe that it’s the right thing to do because I’ve been with groups of young people who work so hard and speak with so much heart about what’s best in America, even though I knew some of them must have lived under the fear of deportation. I know some have come forward at great risks to themselves and their futures in hopes it would spur the rest of us to live up to our own most cherished values. And I’ve seen the stories of Americans in schools and churches and communities across the country who stood up for them and rallied behind them, and pushed us to give them a better path and freedom from fear, because we are a better nation than one that expels innocent young kids.”
In the short term, this clearly has knocked the Republicans for a loop. Uncertain of how to react they are going to bizarre lengths, even criticizing the President for appearing irritated (and only slightly irritated) at his press conference when heckled by a reporter! They realize he’s just made it harder for Romney to win the election.
Romney is in a tough position. To win he has to try to either earn a higher share of the Hispanic vote (unlikely) or hope that Latinos are unenthused and don’t turn out in large numbers at the polls. Obama’s decision just made it more likely that especially young Latinos will be motivated come November. It became harder for Romney to bridge the demographic gap I discussed earlier in the week.
While this was at least in part politically motivated, it also reflects views Obama has been promoting for years. Most of the public supports this, the Senate tried to pass it with 55 votes but the Republicans filibustered. The House passed it when under Democratic control. Simply, Obama is right to note this is the right thing to do. It doesn’t solve the problem – the policy could be rescinded by a President Romney – but is clearly a popular and positive move.
This is the second big political headline Obama has created in recent weeks. Last month he publicly came out in support of gay marriage, an historic move that energized his base. Many thought that blacks, traditionally opposed to gay marriage, would balk. However, most profess not to care — it’s not like that issue is going to get them not to support the first black President! Others thought it might make it easier for Romney to chip off some Latino votes, but today’s move and the Romney campaign’s own clumsiness on the issue make that less likely.
I sense a pattern here. First, Obama has decided that to win this election Obama the pragmatist would have to give way to Obama the bold. I would not be surprised to see a few more major policy decisions in the coming months as Obama positions himself for a re-election campaign that could be tight.
One thing an incumbent President has that a challenger lacks is power. He can make headlines, change policy and shift the national conversation. When this power is wielded deftly, it gives an incumbent a built in advantage, which is why it’s rare for a President not to win a second term.
Team Romney feels like they’ve had a good couple weeks in June, but the polls are staying pretty steady. The main reason team Romney’s positive mood is that massive amounts of money is being raised by “super PACs” likely to amount an extremely well funded negative campaign against the President. It is unlikely the Democrats can counter that, especially as Romney has Wall Street in his corner.
That makes “Obama the Bold’s” next move clear: to find a way to directly take on Wall Street. With headlines saying Wall Street is firmly behind Romney and most citizens still angry about large bailouts and obscene bonuses being paid to Wall Street insiders, Romney could quickly become known as the candidate of the wealthy elite who brought us the 2008 economic collapse.
Already the Romney camp is worried about the image of Romney being Wall Street’s man. Moreover, they are betting on a bloody negative fight whereas they try to paint Obama as out of touch and aloof. That image Republicans are trying to cultivate (any time he shows any irritation at anything it pops up on Drudge as the President being ‘prickly’ or ‘annoyed’) is well planned. In fact, a memo leaked to the press had a group say they could get Americans to “hate” Obama by engaging in such efforts to smear and attack.
The problem is, Americans aren’t buying it. Even those who are disappointed with Obama’s job performance still like him. Moreover, he has the bully pulpit, and hundreds of millions of dollars of negative attack ads may end up being marketing that is just as effective as the ads selling “new Coke” were in 1985. Overkill and an over the top message can turn people off against negative campaigning, and Obama’s people know what’s coming. The power of the Presidency can trump a lot of PAC money.
The election is still close – Intrade has the President’s chances of re-election at 53%, down from 60% in early May, but far better than the below 50% numbers he had most of the second half of last year. Still, President Obama is telegraphing an activist strategy that Romney will find difficult to respond to, especially if the Republican message is primarily negative and offers little new from the Republican play book of the pre-2008 era.
We will only know in hindsight, but given the symbolic and real importance of this change in immigration policy, June 15 may end up being looked on as the day that President Obama assured his re-election.