Wednesday, June 12, 2013

The Unbully Pulpit

President Obama endorsed the "Gang of Eight" immigration bill in a speech yesterday. Jamelle Bouie is in a panic:
In no way is it an exaggeration to say that President Obama’s speech came at the worst possible time. Later this afternoon, the Senate will take a procedural vote that will determine whether or not chamber decides to begin debate on the Gang of Eight bill.

Insofar that Rubio, Jeff Flake, Lindsay Graham and others were having a hard time bringing conservatives to their side, it’s now even more difficult. And if House Republicans take this as a cue to reflexively oppose reform, it puts Boehner in a tight spot—does he try to build a GOP majority for the bill? Does he abandon the “Hastert rule” and pass a bill with Democratic support! Or does he leave the effort altogether?

If this sounds dramatic, then you are drastically underestimating the anti-Obama furor of the Republican base, which has ended political careers for the sin of being friendly with the president. If Obama wants comprehensive immigration reform to pass, he needs to stay completely out of the way. If he wants to claim some credit, he can do so at the signing.
Whether I agree or disagree with this analyiss, it is kind of astonishing. And of course, Obama's decision might be tactical -- every time the right-wing lets its crazy loose with respect to immigration, another million Latinos become lifelong Democratic voters. Particularly if the President is convinced that he's got a working victory margin, he might not mind letting the GOP humiliate itself one last time.

But even taking this phenomenom at face value, what I find most interesting about it is how it falsifies the lazy beltway wisdom that Obama's problems all stem from his lack of engagement with the opposition. If only he was nicer to Republicans; if only he had more dinner parties; if only he went on more golf outings. Now he endorses a bill that prominent Republicans have worked on, and the new CW is that Obama can't get within 50 miles of something if it is to have a chance of passage. Apparently, the right doesn't just want to be wooed by Obama at all. They just don't like the guy.