Obama the Bold

President Obama lays out immigration policy changes in a Rose Garden statement on June 15, 2012.

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.”

Young Latinos cheer and show joy on hearing of the policy change

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.

In a bizarre move, many Republicans criticized the President for showing slight irritation at being interrupted mid-speech by a conservative reporter in what appeared to be heckling (perhaps designed to provoke a reaction?)

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.

Rallies of support for the change quickly spread, even as Republicans were left complaining that Congress (which has refused to act) had been left out.

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.

Images like this are pounced upon by the right who want to paint Obama into some kind of arrogant aloof elitist – if they can’t defeat him on ideas, they hope to simply smear.

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.

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  1. #1 by Ben on June 16, 2012 - 06:54

    Obama the Bold?

    Cap and Trade or any environmental legislation that didn’t involve kickbacks on a failing company?

    End to federal raids on medical marijuana?

    Single-payer health care?

    Closing of Gitmo? Drone strikes?

    Why weren’t the Bush tax cuts rolled back right away?

    How about federal support for gay marriage?

    Bold? Pshaw!

  2. #2 by modestypress on June 17, 2012 - 17:10

    Ben has a point. Obama can’t be considered bold until he divides the nation into two countries, one liberal and one conservative, completing the job that was never finished during the first Civil War.

    • #3 by classicliberal2 on June 18, 2012 - 06:49

      No, Benn has a point because the Obama has spent his entire administration as anything but “bold.” He’s bowed down to Republicans on nearly every major issue, when not outright adopting their policies as his own, and his underlings have openly disdained their own base. Only when he wants to be reelected does he suddenly become concerned about appearing “bold.”

      And appearing bold, rather than actually BEING bold is what’s happening here. The Obama endorsement of legal recognition of homosexual relationships can hardly be seen as “bold”–the overwhelming majority of the public supports the same thing, and has for years. The same is true with his present position on the undocumented children of illegal immigrants. In a Fox News poll from Oct. 2011–the most recent polling I can find–respondents were asked, “Do you think illegal immigrants who have lived in the United States since they were children should be eligible for legal citizenship, or not?” A whopping 63% said they should be (and, this being a Fox poll, the actual number is probably more like 80%). A subsequent Fox poll (from Dec. 2011) alludes to the matter in a less direct manner. The question:

      “Do you favor or oppose allowing local boards to determine whether illegal immigrants can stay in the United States based on factors such as how long the immigrants have lived here, if they have a family, a job and are paying taxes, and have other ties to the community?”

      51% favored this, while 44% opposed it. Not exactly bold, there, either.

      It is, however, strategic, and cynically so. The real reason the Obama has picked these issues is because they are ones on which his base largely agrees, but that divide Republicans. In that second Fox News poll, a majority of REPUBLICANS chose “favor,” with 43% opposed. The matter of legal recognition for homosexual relationships shows the same split. CBS News has polled on that subject for years. Their work shows that Republicans were evenly divided on the question from April 2009 forward, and that a majority of Republicans favored legal recognition from August 2010 forward. Last month, Fox News offered a poll wherein 70% favored some form of legal recognition, with even 57% of Republicans in the “pro” column.

      Really bold.

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