Five Reasons Why Obama Did It

To the conservative mind, President Obama's executive order on immigration is unexplainable. For us, the whole point of the modern political experiment is to stick to the rules. Why would anyone think differently, especially after the disasters of lawless communism and fascism?

But President Obama is no conservative, and so we must try to understand his actions by peering into the mind of the “other.” Here are my five attempts to understand the president.

The Need to Do Something. We often like to sneer at the politician's knee-jerk response to every event, the need to be doing something. But when you are a leader, you are expected to be a man of action. Leaders lead, or they get replaced.

The Need to Keep the Progressives Loyal. You all know my model of government. As an army must feed and clothe its soldiers on the march or see its soldiers mutiny and desert, a government must satisfy its supporters. Barack Obama has proven to be a great disappointment to his less-committed supporters. Where's the hope? Where's the change? When the soldiery starts to get restive then the wise general must make certain of the loyalty of his Praetorian Guard, and the “progressives” are the Obamic equivalent of the Roman emperor's Praetorian Guard. Without them the regime comes to an end. Obama must keep the progressives happy.

Liberal Faith in Government by Rational Administration. To readers of the New York Times and other residual legatees of the Progressive Era the idea of congressional legislation is something of an embarrassment. The sight of all those hoggish politicians wheeling and dealing in smoke-filled rooms to come up with an immigration bill offends the refined sensibility. What's needed is a rational plan drawn up by credentialed experts and large-minded people that read The New Yorker. And the original Progressives had a point. A committee of 535 people is completely inadequate to the task of converting a rag-tag organism of social humans into a comprehensive and mandatory national program designed as a rational administrative system, whether the issue is health care or immigration. So an executive order is just the ticket.

“Activism” is the Only Thing the President Knows. We conservatives have dined out endlessly on the Alinsky maxim for the past six years. That's because there's a lot of truth in it. The president believes in activist politics, the separation of the world into three parts: oppressors, oppressed, and the champions of the oppressed. If you are a champion of the oppressed the whole meaning of your life is bound up in “speaking truth to power.” Sarah Hoyt addresses that here.

The President Just Doesn't Have the Chops to Negotiate with Congress. The information we got from the president's confrontations with Congress after the 2010 midterms suggested that the president wasn't very good at negotiating. Moreover, he infuriated the Republican leaders by reopening issues that had already been agreed to. If you hate negotiating and you aren't very good at it, then you would do anything to avoid the unpleasantness of a full-dress, six-month negotiation with Congress over immigration. Thus the executive order.

The five reasons I've listed to explain the president's action on immigration last Thursday may or may not explain why he did what he did. But they add up to this: the president is acting from weakness rather than from strength. Let's face it, the president's party has gone in a short six years from overwhelming strength in the Congress and the nation to the worst position of the Democratic Party since before the Great Depression. All the heady talk of the Emerging Democratic Majority has collapsed in failure and ruin. All over Washington, Democratic officeholders must be asking themselves how bad things can get. You can say that Republicans can hardly expand the map much further, but that doesn't comfort the Democrat in a swing district that could lose his seat if things do get worse. At some point, perhaps when Republicans start passing bill overwhelmingly supported by the American people, Democrats are going to start running for the exits.