Posted on January 30, 2013 by Ruth O’Brien
Wow! What a difference a day makes. I’m pleasantly surprised by how well President Obama is succeeding in pushing this behemoth into action — Congress, that is. Obama shelved his own immigration plan entirely. To be sure, he learned the hard way during his first administration to have it on a shelf, and keep it close by and handy. Congress, he insists, must pass its immigration plan “in a timely fashion,”or he’ll take down his own and send it over.
Obama has shown the public that his administration is fully prepared and ready to act if Congress does not go through with the bipartisan immigration plan introduced on Monday. The point is that his plan will be held in reserve, and that the public knows it, now that he’s got Congress on the run (from the judgment of public opinion, which its members, surprisingly, seem to care about, given election concerns despite high incumbency rates).
I always resisted Paul Light’s thesis about the presidency — that just as a president gains the requisite executive experience of knowing how to get his domestic agenda done, he’s lost all power as a lame duck. To be sure, Light describes what scholars call the big reform presidencies of FDR, JFK, or LBJ, all of whom had a united government. He does not describe the unilateral executive that began with Ronald Reagan and that Obama most typifies among later presidents.
As a unilateral executive, Obama lets the public know he will change the laws through executive action, so that at least something will happen. In terms of immigration reform, Obama has already made a very public show of giving 800,000 undocumented people amnesty. While 800,000 is 10 million less than 11 million, which is what the bipartisan immigration bill proposes, the public still gets it.
All this means that Obama, a lame duck, is starting to lead the Democratic party, a party he had great difficulty leading during his first term. Obama’s threat of executive action has such a sting to it that he is successfully lording it over both the Republicans and the Democrats. Both big parties understand that perhaps only what I call “Obamacrats” will capture the next presidency, since a large portion of the most burgeoning populace — the Latino/Latina vote — is located in the highly and hotly contested West, or the purple states.