Prince of Handouts
Quite a lot has been said about what Obama's instant amnesty scheme means in the purely procedural sense -- that it's illegal and unconstitutional on its face, all of which is undeniable. What we haven't heard discussed is what it's actually for. It's being taken for granted that it's of a piece with general Democratic corruption at the voting booth -- ACORN, Black Panthers swinging nightsticks, phantom voters, Eric Holder defending the voting rights of the deceased, and so forth.
But in fact, it's much more straightforward than that. Obama's amnesty ukase is simply Chicago writ large.
While Chicago-style machine politics is the politics of the deal, it's also the politics of the handout. Chicago Democrats have retained power for generations not only by trading favors with their peers, but by carefully parceling out favors to the canaille -- aka, the voters. These can range from a city job for Junior after high school to a contract for a small business owner to the traditional holiday food basket handed out to the desperately poor by local precinct bosses. Such practices have been central to big-city politics since the heyday of Tammany and Boss Tweed, and they still exist in most cities, though seldom as blatantly and primitively as in Chicago. In the Windy City, it essentially stands as an outgrowth of old-world social mores, in which the peasant acts as a client to the local landlord or padrone, promising loyalty in exchange for crumbs. Chicago, almost uniquely, has extended it straight into 3rd millennium.
Obama is attempting to translate this sociopolitical anachronism to the national stage as the next step in identity politics. His amnesty is in effect a huge food basket given to illegal immigrants in hopes that the entire community -- and this includes legal and even native-born Hispanics as well -- will cast their votes for the padrone, in this case Barack Obama.
It becomes apparent what Obama's electoral strategy is going to be. He will hand out goodies to one after another interest group over the next five months -- favors intended to cement customary support or swing the undecided over to the Democrats. We can look forward to further executive orders containing handouts to every imaginable interest group, including blacks, gays (gay marriage is a likely possibility), unions (card check), American Jews ("Inmate Pollard, report to the warden's office."), and for all I know, the Church of Scientology. (Wait...didn't Big Bill already try that?) By this means, Obama hopes to encourage the traditional Democratic coalition while dragging in enough new voters to put him over the top. And all he needs is to continue dropping an executive order every couple of weeks. He must think he's discovered the political philosopher's stone.
Has he? Can this work? The one problem with handing out political favors is that they usually impose a cost on somebody else. The amnesty will take jobs from average Americans amid the worst employment market in a generation (look for a large working-class giveaway sometime late in the summer as an effort to overcome this factor). In Chicago, the handout culture required an eternal and constant balancing act in which each faction, ethic, political, or otherwise, got only so much of what it desired along with promises of more in the future. (One result of this is near-permanent social stasis, with the city remaining essentially unchanged for decades. Chicago to this day remains one of most self-segregated major cities in the U.S.)
It must be admitted that pulling this off is a neat trick, one requiring a substantial amount of skill in manipulating ethnic and social groups. The problem for Obama is that he's never shown any sign of skill at this kind of thing whatsoever. In Chicago, he was not a patron at all, but merely another client, someone who accepted favors (a new house, a senatorship) as opposed to handing them out. Obama's idea of persuasion involves a flick of the lion's-tail whisk at which everyone is supposed to fall into line uttering hosannas. This has not worked for him yet and is unlikely to start now. He simply does not possess the subtlety of an FDR, who could not only pull off comparable maneuvers with clocklike regularity, but also persuade the targets that it was their own idea.
So it's unlikely that this program of an easy road to victory paved by executive orders is going to work out any more than the previous scheme of creating fake controversies (Sandra Fluke, gays in the military), designed to out Republicans as fanatic troglodytes, did. It's more likely that Obama will get halfway through the series and end up having to curtail the rest due to public fury, congressional outrage, and legal action. At which point he'll be left with a lot of promises he can't keep, a lot of angry special interest groups, and the same demoralized and listless Democratic voting bloc he has now.
It's clear as to how Republicans should oppose this little scheme. Thus far, most of the comments have involved the facts of the amnesty order's legal status, which, however true, are also beside the point. This is an abstract argument, of the kind beloved of conservative pundits, and while it may be enough to satisfy E. 35th St., it is not enough for the population at large.
Greater effect can be gained by pointing out how Obama is cheating the country as a whole. He is giving away things that are not his to give. While the padrone may in fact have owned his vast estates, American politicians do not own their offices, their districts, or the cities in which they operate. Acting as if they do is a theft committed against the public at large, and has been recognized as such since the day that William Tweed was dragged off in chains to make small rocks out of large ones. (For that matter, the old aristocratic system in which the landowner flourished as the effective chieftain of a population of serfs has been rejected throughout the civilized world as well.) What Obama and his crew are attempting is to revive that ancient system of political patronage, expand it across the country as a whole, and loot the nation's patrimony to do it.
Such an argument will resonate with the voting public. It is simple and straightforward, easily expressed and understood. It matches everyone's knowledge of politics as it is practiced in the home of Al Capone, and their fears of what might emerge from such a milieu. It is a perfect fit with the actual Obama who is beginning to emerge from behind the mists of mythology, deification, and idolatry. Best of all, it is the truth.
J.R. Dunn is consulting editor of American Thinker.