Crises Are Not Opportunities
A president should try to solve problems, not use them for political gain.

Rahm Emanuel with President Barack Obama


Jim Geraghty

Any serious solution to illegal immigration requires sorting through the 11 million to identify and deport those who show no sign of becoming “good citizens.” If the public believed that the government was actually going to do this in a competent manner, and that the border was secure, you would see a wide, bipartisan consensus for immigration reform. Americans aren’t that troubled by the thought of their local busboy becoming an American citizen. They’re worried about the gang members, drug dealers and smugglers, human traffickers, and other hardened criminals.

The Democratic party’s primary objective in this debate has been to get as many of these 11 million declared citizens as quickly as possible. Never mind that all of them have already broken the law by entering the country illegally. Never mind the potential impact on unskilled workers already here. Never mind how the vast majority of these folks have not paid any income taxes since their arrival, a failure for which most American citizens would be put in prison. To listen to the Democratic party’s rhetoric, you would think that the primary problem with our current system is that you’re not allowed to vote in federal elections the moment you cross the border.
The transparent goal here is to get 11 million new Democratic voters in the system as soon as possible, turning a bunch of red states purple and purple states blue. All of the other concerns — who among these people mean us harm? is it in our economic interest? can they be culturally assimilated? — are dismissed as xenophobia.

Finally, there is the sequester. In his State of the Union address, Obama declared, “It is not a bigger government we need, but a smarter government that sets priorities and invests in broad-based growth.”

A president who truly believed in the government’s ability to work efficiently and dispel the public’s perception of the “bloated bureaucrat” would welcome the opportunity to cut seven to ten percentage points from the federal budget with no significant change in the quality of government services. That president would welcome, instead of threatening to veto, legislation that gave him greater flexibility to administer sequestration cuts.
Instead, we have gotten the Washington Monument strategy on a grand, government-wide scale — illegal immigrants let out of detention centers, White House tours canceled, long delays at airports because of cuts (now averted) to the Federal Aviation Administration.

Meanwhile, the federal government continues to spend $20 million on helping the Palestinian Authority be more effective, $11,000 per classroom for audiovisual systems for the Foreign Service Institute, $3.8 million to enact reforms to Armenia’s pension system, $18.8 million for economic development in the Philippines, and nearly $900,000 on keeping empty bank accounts open, while $2 billion in unspent stimulus funds remain in federal accounts. What we see before us today is the exact opposite of a “smarter government that sets priorities.”

Many of us walk around with this old-fashioned notion that government ought to try to make life better for its citizens; for this administration, the aim of the sequester appears to be to administer the cuts as painfully as possible in order to persuade the public that the sequester was a bad idea.

Obama’s approval rating is in the high 40s again. It occasionally dips underwater (when his disapproval rating higher rises above it) and then resurfaces. If public approval still matters to him — at this point, it may take a backseat to his mission of “fundamentally transforming the United States of America” — he may want to try solving the next crisis to arise, instead of trying to use it for political gain.

The president and Rahm Emanuel may never want a serious crisis to go to waste, but the American people really never want a serious crisis to just fester.

— Jim Geraghty writes the Campaign Spot on NRO.