Tag Archives: Barack Obama

Dick Lugar and the GOP That Used to Be

Yesterday, I logged on to the New York Times to be greeted by an Op-Ed written by former Indiana Senator Richard Lugar. In it, he defended Presidential authority over immigration enforcement decisions.

That authority is currently being challenged by a number of Republican Governors (including–surprise!–Indiana’s Mike Pence) in a case before the Supreme Court.

In his op-ed, Indiana’s former Senator patiently explained the nature and extent of Presidential discretion over immigration, and the reasons Congress has historically granted the Commander-in-Chief that discretion.

[W]hether or not you like President Obama’s actions, he has operated under longstanding provisions of law that give the executive branch discretion in enforcement. This presidential prerogative has been recognized explicitly by the Supreme Court. Moreover, the nature of immigration enforcement and the resources (or lack thereof) appropriated by Congress necessitate exactly the type of choices that the president has made.

Lugar followed this observation with citations to Supreme Court cases, Congressional measures, and similar discretionary decisions by previous Presidents of both parties . And in what can only be read as a reproach to the GOP’s current Presidential contenders–all of whom profess support for mass deportations–he wrote:

The immense moral and legal consequences of a deportation campaign targeting up to 11 million undocumented immigrants are obvious. Even Americans whose frustration has overcome their compassion and led them to support the harshest immigration enforcement would be likely to reconsider if they actually saw such an operation in action.

A huge roundup like that would require an extraordinary expansion of federal law enforcement capabilities and resulting intrusions into American society. But in reality, there is no prospect for such a campaign because Congress has not made available more than a small fraction of the necessary money and manpower.

This is why, by its nature, immigration enforcement requires executive discretion.

Anyone who has followed Richard Lugar’s illustrious career knows how carefully he has always parsed his words, and how reluctant he has been to criticize other political figures–especially his fellow Republicans. (If you are looking for an exemplary example of civility, you can hardly do better than Dick Lugar.) That is why I was particularly struck by these paragraphs:

President Obama’s actions, therefore, are hardly unprecedented. There are two major differences. First, he gave speeches advocating for explicit programs with names, rather than relying on subtler agency direction.

Second, immigration policy has been caught up in today’s hyper-partisanship, where a strident anti-immigration tide within the Republican Party overwhelms all bipartisan compromise. All 26 state officials who have challenged the administration’s executive actions in the Supreme Court case are Republicans, and last month the G.O.P.-led House of Representatives voted to file an amicus brief on behalf of the entire House.

From these howls of outrage, you wouldn’t know that the Obama administration has vastly exceeded the deportations under President George W. Bush. And Mr. Bush vastly exceeded those of President Clinton. President Obama’s directives to focus enforcement efforts on those who have committed crimes in the United States and recent border crossers are a rational executive prioritization, given the resources and the realities…..

When the president took his executive action on immigration, he was not flouting the will of Congress; rather, he was using the discretion Congress gave him to fulfill his constitutional duty to “take Care that the Laws be faithfully executed.”

My own political involvement began with a long-ago effort to elect Dick Lugar Mayor of Indianapolis. Over the years, especially during his Senate tenure, he moved steadily to the Right on matters of domestic policy, and I came to disagree with him on several issues. Like most Hoosiers, however, I never doubted his intellect, his integrity, or his mastery of policy–especially foreign policy.

Even after he lost a primary election to a clueless culture warrior pandering to the GOP’s ever more rabid base, Lugar has continued to be supportive of his party, seemingly reluctant to criticize even those who are besmirching his legacy of thoughtful statesmanship. That reluctance makes yesterday’s op-ed even more significant.

When you look at the chasm–the abyss!– between a statesman like Dick Lugar and an in-over-his-head theocrat like Mike Pence, it’s enough to make a former Republican cry.

Tea and Very Little Sympathy

Ever since the emergence of the Tea Party–with its intransigence, ideological rigidity and hostility–there has been a robust debate about who they are, what they want, and whether they are a genuine grass-roots movement or the product of some canny (and wealthy) Republican operatives. Other than poll results, however, there has been very little empirical research informing that debate.

That has changed. In a recent issue of “Perspectives on Politics,” a peer-reviewed journal published by the American Political Science Association, Vanessa Williamson, Theda Skocpol and John Coggin published “The Tea Party and the Remaking of Republican Conservatism.” I don’t know Williamson or Coggin, but Theda Skocpol is a widely-respected Harvard Professor who–among other things–has served as the President of the American Political Science Association.

The article is worth reading in its entirety, but here are some highlights:

  • The Tea Party is a new incarnation of “long-standing strands” in American conservatism.
  • Tea Party opposition to the Affordable Care Act is not a manifestation of hostility to social programs per se; the opposition is based upon resentment of “perceived government handouts to “undeserving” people. (Tea partiers see themselves as entitled to Social Security and Medicare.) Their definition of “undeserving” “seems heavily influenced by racial and ethnic stereotypes.”
  • The Tea Party owes its emergence not only to the Republican elites that initially bankrolled it, but to Fox News. The authors believe that “the best way to understand Fox News’ role is as a national advocacy organization actively fostering a social protest identity.” (63% of Tea Party members watch Fox, as opposed to 11% of the general population.)
  • Tea Party members are a very small minority of Americans. Only one in five of those who claim to be members have actually attended an event or donated money. Members are older, white and middle-class, and a majority are men. The vast majority are conservative Republicans.

There is much more, but the central finding (in my opinion, at least) was that at the grassroots level, Tea Partiers judge social programs “not in terms of abstract free-market orthodoxy, but according to the perceived deservingness of recipients.” It will not come as a shock to most of us that deservingness is “an implicit cultural category.” Hence the hysteria over immigration (the study finds–surprise!–that “fears of immigration are closely linked to the ethnic identity of the immigrants in question”). Support for the Tea Party “remains a valid predictor of racial resentment” even after controlling for ideology and partisanship, and this finding goes a long way toward explaining what seems to most of us as an irrational hatred of Obama. As the authors put it, “At a fundamental level, Obama’s policies and his person are not within the Tea Party conception of America, so his election seems like a threat to what they understand as their country.”

And they want “their” country back.