Jay Bookman

Opinion columnist and blogger with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, specializing in foreign relations, environmental and technology-related issues

Immigration reform 'battle royale' now has a start time

Apparently, it's on for Thursday night, 8 p.m.:


And the response from John Boehner's office? As his spokesman put it:

“If ‘Emperor Obama’ ignores the American people and announces an amnesty plan that he himself has said over and over again exceeds his constitutional authority, he will cement his legacy of lawlessness and ruin the chances for congressional action on this issue – and many others."

In a different world, in a world in which the previous six years of Obama's presidency didn't exist, in a world in which Boehner's four years as speaker didn't exist, that kind of argument from the speaker's office might seem reasonable if not convincing. In that kind of world, it would be tempting to believe that "congressional action on this issue – and many others" -- would be feasible if only Obama delayed taking action on immigration.

That is not the world in which we live.

In this world, Boehner has been using Obama as an excuse for his own inadequacies for years now. Time and again, when Boehner has failed to keep his own caucus from throwing immature tantrums, even to the point of shutting down the government and flirting with default, the speaker has blamed that failure on the president, as if by his very existence Obama was provoking the irrational hatred that has been directed at him from the beginning.

More specifically, since at least as far back as 2010, Boehner has been claiming that House action on immigration reform was just around the corner, it was about to happen, he almost had the votes, if only Obama would give him time.

And Obama did give him time. It is now almost 2015, but still no congressional action, and the truth is that regardless of what Obama does or does not do, there is still not the slightest chance of congressional action taking place. And that is entirely on Boehner. At several points in the last two years, he could have allowed the Senate-passed immigration bill to come to a floor vote and it probably would have passed with a combination of Democratic and Republican support. But he lacked the courage to do so.

Frankly, this is not a good place to be. It's not good for Obama, it's not good for Boehner, it's not good for the country, it's not good for those here illegally, it's not good for our broken system of government. With public faith in our national institutions already at rock bottom, it's sobering to think where all this might lead.

But if we're honest with ourselves, we will admit that it's not really about immigration, and it's not really about Obama either.

This is about the volcanic fever that began on the right some two decades ago under Bill Clinton, that fed on conspiracy nonsense and its own frustration and that culminated in his impeachment. It receded a bit in the wake of 9/11, then rose to operatic lunacy in the preposterous Terri Schiavo case under George W. Bush. Now, after several years of working its self-righteous anger to the point of criticality, it seems destined to erupt again, perhaps in more glory than ever.

This is also the natural consequence of a political movement that abhors compromise and that depends on outraged confrontation for its energy, and that will do anything necessary to create that confrontation. Policy goals aren't important, not really; issues such as the Keystone pipeline and Benghazi are mere means to provoke that confrontation, and if denied that confrontation in one setting it will seek it in another.

In recent months, Obama has had the aura of a man who now accepts and understands that reality, and has ceased running from it. They have tried to deny his legitimacy as president, his legitimacy as a patriotic American and his legitimacy as a leader, and judging from the casual, relaxed tone of his response above, he has finally concluded that their craziness is not his problem to manage.


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About the Author

Jay Bookman writes about government and politics, with an occasional foray into other aspects of life as time, space and opportunity allow.