Time to talk

Barack ObamaThe New York Times and Fox News do not frequently agree. They are, however, agreed that President Obama is shortly to issue an executive order changing the status of several million illegal immigrants. He has wanted to do so for some time, so the timing – immediately after the mid-term elections – is not a coincidence. He let it be known earlier in the year that he was planning to do so, but only after the elections.  That, in itself, is a puzzle. If he thought the move was unpopular then why reveal his plans. If he thought it was popular he would have acted before the election. Did he think that leaking the plan to Latinos would be effective while, somehow, his critics would not hear of it?

Your columnist confesses to being confused as to how the president’s plan can be legal. Congress writes the law. The president executes it. But that is for another day – after we have seen his executive order.

This column concerns the timing. This will necessarily look like the president raising a finger to congressional Republicans and to the electorate. The president is, rightly, frustrated at lack of movement on the Republican side over this issue – though it is not as if he has shown much inclination to compromise either. 

Prospects for compromise are not high. Even if Speaker Boehner or incoming Senate Majority Leader McConnell were inclined to making a deal – and I know of no evidence that they are – it is certain that they would face resistance in their caucuses. Individuals who have shown willingness to compromise have been punished. Florida Senator, Marco Rubio, saw his poll rating as a potential candidate for president tumble after seeking to build bipartisan alliances on the subject. But circumstances have changed. There has been an election, and there is not another due for two years. Barack Obama will never be a candidate again. He may find some congressional figures who are willing to contemplate compromise and he has no reason not to consider compromise himself.

Yet he seems to have ruled out even looking for a deal. He is determined to carry on with his own plans. Republicans are likely to punish him for this by refusing to compromise on other issues. That would be unfortunate, but the president’s declaration that he cares nothing for compromise and is so certain of his own rectitude that he can’t be bothered to even find out if a deal is possible is certainly a barrier to good governance. 

If the president is so clear that he does not wish to compromise then this is likely to deter Republican leaders from exploring whether other compromise is possible. Faced with a Republican Congress pushing welfare reform, Bill Clinton tried to oppose them, but when he realized reform was popular he reversed himself and has spent almost 20 years claiming credit for the policy. Perhaps President Obama’s rigidity is related to his moral certainty. Clinton always knew – as we all do now – that he was a bit of a rascal. It left him temperamentally better equipped to strike deals.

Research by Jonathan Haidt has shown that most liberals lack any ability to appreciate the position of others. This lack of empathy – quite out of sync with traditional liberalism – is a barrier to political dialog, and strongly exemplified by the president.

qlQuentin Langley is a Senior Lecturer in Marketing at the University of Bedfordshire Business School as well as a freelance columnist published in the UK and all parts of the US. He blogs on social media and crisis communications at brandjacknews.com

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