Obama: Damned if You Do, Damned if You Don't

With the passage of a bipartisan financial reform bill yesterday, President Obama should be basking in soaring poll numbers and popularity. He is delivering change in Washington D.C. as promised, scoring major legislative victories in the first two years of his presidency.

But voters don’t really have confidence in the financial reform package passed. And the public perception is not wrong — the 2300 pages of toothless legislation creates more regulatory agencies and government bureaucracy, dependent mostly on appointed regulators. Many still see Obama flirting with a failed presidency, with his base disenchanted and Democrats set to lose majorly during the mid-term elections in November.

What changed the presidency of hope and change into the presidency of disenchanted voters? Besides the oil spill and a bad economy, the Obama Administration has certainly angered its base — the LGBT community is angry about the lack of action on repealing discriminatory laws,  blue-color workers and people of color wonder when change is coming to their lives, and for the vast majority, economic recovery means recovering financial institutions instead of their lost jobs.

What can the Obama Administration do in order to secure re-election? Certainly not immigration reform seems to be the surprising answer. Jay Newton-Small writing for Time Magazine appears to agree with Rahm Emmanuel on defining immigration as the third rail of politics since Obama may lose potential white swing votes in Western states as a result of his focus on immigration.

Wait, what focus on immigration? Besides sending more troops to the border, Obama also had the Department of Justice file a lawsuit against the anti-immigrant law passed in Arizona. But, the battle over SB 1070 is merely a smokescreen — the federal government is not telling Arizona that racial profiling to determine immigration status is wrong, but that the power to do that is reserved to the federal government. Maybe the White House feels that a half-hearted fight-back would reassure Latinos of his support for broader legislative overhaul. But it is no secret that local police and federal immigrant agents have increased cooperation to enforce immigration laws under the Obama presidency, with a dramatic expansion of programs that criminalize non-violent immigrants and militarization of the border. Nothing short of advancing Congressional legislation on the issue will work to bring back the lost Latino and newly naturalized voters.

The Obama Administration also does not trumpet the gains it has made in enforcing immigration laws because while this would convince Americans that the government is serious about “securing the border,” it would also anger his base and possibly cost him the elections in 2012.

While some advocates are holding out hope for smaller pieces of legislation to pass in the lame-duck session, some Hill staffers have slipped up in revealing that immigration reform may not be on the agenda even for early next year, contrary to (more) promises from Senator Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), whose aides are responsible for crafting a comprehensive immigration bill. Additionally, since the election season does technically start for the Republicans next year, expect no real reforms coming out of Congress. In light of that, maybe Obama should stop courting Latino voters with false promises.

Newton-Small rightly identifies that by merely talking about the issue Obama ignites the Latino base, just not in the way that the White House desires. A good majority want some resolution on the crisis, but focusing on it without any action has the dual effect of turning away white moderates and angering immigrant communities. In effect, Obama is doomed if he does and doomed if he doesn’t tackle the issue before re-election.

Photo Credit: The White House

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