Showing posts with label immigration. Show all posts
Showing posts with label immigration. Show all posts

2/23/2008

Obama's Inflated Support

Part of the main draw of Barack Obama is that he is branded as the post-racial, post-political, unity candidate. He is the candidate that will deliver "change" and forge a new working political majority that will accomplish great things for the American people. Given the disillusionment of the American people regarding Washington, this is a powerful message he has adopted and it has served him well, as he is on the cusp of securing the Democratic nomination.

Obama fares better in a general election against John McCain than Hillary Clinton and is flush with cash. Combine all this with the lopsided voter turnout in the primaries and caucuses so far and it looks like Obama is a safe bet to become the nation's 44th president.

However, a premature coronation and projections of an electoral rout in November would be unwise. For all of Obama's good fortune, it must be noted that his greatest strength also stands to become his greatest weakness. And this would suggest that his electoral appeal is actually inflated right now.

As was stated earlier, "change" is at the center of Obama's platform. However, "change" has nothing to do with legislation, nor does it have anything to do with government policy. "Change" is primarily defined by Obama as a change in the way the nation conducts its politics. It's about reducing partisanship, forging relationships with political adversaries, and accomplishing the nation's business. This is fine, but the problem is that legislation matters.

Do voters really value political unity over legislation they agree with? Are voters really prepared to abandon their ideological principles for the sake of reducing partisanship? Does the fact that Democrats and Republicans can work together compensate for a tax policy, Supreme Court appointment, immigration policy, and foreign policy that you fundamentally disagree with?

The inspiration for this post you are reading came from watching the most recent debate on CNN between Obama and Clinton in Texas. Both candidates were asked about solving the immigration problem and the perils of the United States becoming a bilingual nation. Both candidates gave respectable and thoughtful answers, but how were these remarks received by independents and Republicans who are leaning towards Obama? Not once did Obama mention the fact that illegal immigrants had broken the law or that there was a national security component to the issue. Not once did he mention border fences, enforcing current immigration laws, or even tightening restrictions on visas. The closest he came to addressing these concerns of more moderate and conservative voters was saying "we could be a nation of laws and a nation of immigrants at the same time."

That may have pleased the Democrats, liberals, and Latinos in the audience, but what about other voters? Even for so-called Obamacans, hearing Obama's immigration position probably didn't sit too well with them. Will they really be prepared to compromise so much of their long-held beliefs about such a contentious issue just because they are so inspired by Obama's candidacy? Tom Tancredo's candidacy should have served as a warning to Democrats, but it appears that Obama has yet to heed this message.

Clive Crook of National Journal made a similar observation about Obama's economic policy:

"What Obama's ideas look like, when you see past the brilliant salesmanship, is boilerplate leftism."
Obama was ranked as the most liberal senator of 2007 according to his voting record. While there is absolutely nothing inherently wrong being a liberal (or anything else), it must be noted that Obama is more liberal than what most voters might be comfortable with. It seems that Obama's appeal is largely based on the idea that voters simply aren't digging this deeply when it comes to assessing him.

This is not to say that voters aren't taking their politicians seriously or that they are wrong for supporting Obama. However, the potential for an Obama letdown is very real. No politician can sustain this level of enthusiasm forever, and there will come a time when Obama's record and platform must come under greater scrutiny. David Brooks of the New York Times has even gone so far as to coin the term Obama Comedown Syndrome.

I warned last summer that Obama was setting himself up for his own downfall:
"The problem with this is that Obama is not a rock star. He is a candidate for President of the United States. And as the president, issues of character, experience, and policy positions become important. During Obama's ascent to media and political stardom, not much attention has been paid to his policy positions and his experience because his freshness trumped any other nagging doubts people had about him. However, these doubts are becoming more difficult to ignore now."
In that post, I incorrectly predicted that some of the other more experienced candidates stood to benefit from an Obama letdown. While those experienced so-called second-tier candidates never took off, the possibility of Obama crashing back down to earth now seems more realistic than ever. And in the event that this happens, it won't be because of anything he did wrong or because of his supposed lack of gubernatorial experience. His downfall is more likely to stem from a more thorough examination of his policy positions which would reveal that he is too ideologically dissimilar to more voters than both he and the media seem to realize right now.

Hillary Clinton is probably not going to win the nomination (at least not by amassing more pledged delegates), but David Brooks' Obama Comedown Syndrome may be the best thing she has going for her right now. Obama certainly has style. And unlike the "all hat and no cattle" barbs used against him would suggest, he does have substance. The problem is that his substance is simply unpalatable to so many of his supporters who are still captivated by his style. Of course, there's always the possibility that these voters are indeed aware of this disconnect, but have concluded that it simply doesn't matter. But I doubt this.

Having said all that, Obama is probably more likely to win the presidency than either Hillary Clinton or John McCain at present. However, he is not as formidable as his fundraising and polling suggest because, simply put, ideas matter. Inching towards the center might be a prudent course of action for him to take, lest he risk having his political base reduced to that of a traditional liberal Democrat.

12/23/2007

Tancredo's Lesson for Democrats

Earlier this week, Tom Tancredo officially dropped out of the presidential race. His campaign had been plagued by anemic polling, insufficient fundraising, and the inability to gain any real traction. Perhaps the biggest problem Tancredo had was that he had no real niche that wasn't already filled by another more viable candidate. In the words of CNN political analyst Bill Schneider:

"I would say all of the other Republican candidates...adopted some parts of Tancredo's tough line on illegal immigration. Now, what happens when you out-Tancredo Tancredo? You don't need Tancredo anymore. And that's why he's getting out."
Let's be honest. Tancredo stood no chance of winning the Republican nomination. However, his candidacy was important for one reason: He tapped into the anger stemming from illegal immigration and successfully pushed his Republican rivals further to the right on this issue. John McCain in particular learned the hard way about appearing soft on this issue.

Most Republicans and some Democrats get it now. Almost all of them are talking about border security, penalties for employers that hire illegal workers, and restricting social services for those who are not in the country legally. Tough new laws at the state level are addressing the failings of the federal government on this issue. People everywhere regardless of party are incensed about this issue and right now, the Republicans are paying a lot of attention to it.

However, the Democrats have remained relatively silent on this issue. And that is a big mistake. The Democrats' strategy is to let the Republicans appear so mean and dispirited towards "undocumented workers" that moderate voters and (especially) Latino voters in places like Florida, Texas, and the Southwest will penalize them at the ballot box. The Democrats seem to believe that by not demonizing and scapegoating (mostly Latino) illegal immigrants, they are cultivating a new politically loyal constituency, much like the solidly Democratic Black vote.

However, this strategy is flawed for several reasons:

1. Democrats stand to lose more votes than they could gain. Illegal immigration is hot. Republicans are as concerned about illegal immigration as Democrats are about Iraq and health care. Disaffected and moderate Republicans who might otherwise consider voting Democrat might view their softer immigration views as a dealbreaker. They could be so turned off by Democrats' perceived coddling of illegal immigrants that they continue to vote Republican. And the majority of Democrats also believe in adopting a harder line on this issue as well, so there's the added risk of Democrats voting Republican based on this issue alone.

2. Latino voters have lower rates of voter participation than Blacks and Whites. What's the point of cultivating a new base of voters if these voters can't be counted on to get to the polls? And what's the point of antagonizing voters who are actually more likely to show up? And since illegal aliens can't vote anyway, when do these politicians expect to be rewarded for not adopting a harder line on this problem? Or are politics more important than governance?

3. Legal immigrants are sometimes the angriest about illegal immigration. While most of these legal immigrants are sympathetic to illegal immigrants (because of fears of racism and scapegoating all immigrants, regardless of status), there is still a sizable minority that supports cracking down on this problem. These people who came to the United States legally often had to wait for months or years for the embassies and consulates abroad to approve their visa paperwork. They often had to pay hundreds of dollars in fees, attend rigorous interviews, and even undergo extensive background checks. In other words, these people had to work hard for their citizenship and permanent resident status. To see people who simply hopped over a border fence or overstayed their tourist or student visas makes these legal immigrants very, very angry. I have personal experience with this issue, as it was painstakingly difficult and prohibitively expensive for me to bring my wife to the United States as a permanent resident. Knowing that millions of people skirted this process by entering the country illegally is an insult to the millions of other people who played by the rules. So Democrats might win over the votes of illegal immigrants (if they ever become eligible to vote), but they also risk inflaming other immigrant groups--groups that tend to vote Democratic.

4. This is the strongest issue for Republicans in that their position on illegal immigration is more widely shared than their views on other issues. There are great philosophical differences between Republicans and Democrats on Iraq, health care, taxes, terrorism, the environment, gay marriage, and gun rights. However, only the most liberal Democrats support the rights of illegal immigrants. 2008 is a very winnable election for Democrats, but if they nominate someone who is soft on this issue, Republicans could potentially ride this issue all the way to a third consecutive Republican term at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

When Hillary Clinton received that question about driver's licenses for illegal immigrants at the debate in Philadelphia that presaged her downfall, the other Democrats should have used that as an impetus for developing their own immigration platform. Clinton actually gave a sensible answer on this issue, but she got in trouble when she tried to have it both ways. Of course, that debate was almost two months ago. But while this issue may have faded away from the forefront of the Democratic race, this issue has not faded away from the general electorate at all. And if the Democrats aren't careful, they are going to risk making a sizable portion of this electorate angry.

Hillary Clinton provided the first warning to Democrats. Tom Tancredo provided the second one. Should the 2008 election hinge on illegal immigration and the Democrats lose, the most ironic thing about this defeat would be that the Democrats lost the election by pandering to people who can't even participate in the election to begin with.

Copyright 2007-2008 by Anthony Palmer. This material may not be republished or redistributed in any manner without the expressed written permission of the author, nor may this material be cited elsewhere without proper attribution. All rights reserved. The 7-10 is syndicated by Newstex.