By going it alone on immigration reform, President Obama signaled Thursday that, in his final two years in office, he’s going to be dealing strictly in reality—his version of it anyway.
Not the long-dead dream of hope and change, that rhetoric alone can move mountains. Not the similar fantasy of working hand-in-hand with congressional Republicans. Or even the fiction that most of the country is listening to him.
The president is focused on the here and now. What he can do versus what he can’t—and to some degree taking care of his own. Remember what Janis Joplin sang about freedom when Obama was just a kid? It’s been conventional wisdom that there are risks on both sides with this expansive executive order, but there’s no real risk for Obama. Risk is for politicians who have futures. But Congress has flipped, the president is already at 40 percent approval, and on Thursday night, he gave an address that was notable for the fact that the major broadcast networks didn’t air it. Obama’s future is in the past. There’s not much left to lose.
If anything, the fact that the White House was so quick to roll out the new immigration policy right after the president’s party was thumped in the midterms suggests the administration may now view its half-hearted decision to postpone the order until after the election as a mistake. This time, when Senate Democrats asked him to wait until an omnibus funding bill was passed, Obama didn’t listen. And he didn’t bother to invite Republican leaders to a dinner Wednesday to talk about the order. That would be more useless theater. He may be done playing footsie with anyone.