I was standing in the middle of the field, decked out in my “Angels” jersey and cap, as a dozen five-year-old T-ballers sprinted towards me. As the team coach, I needed to position my munchkins for the upcoming inning. Kind of like shepherding cats. As my granddaughter approached, I pointed to the shortstop spot and asked “Where’s your mitt, Liv?”
“Not going to use it Grampa!” She was emphatic. The reference to “Grampa” instead of “Coach D” meant that we had just gone from coach-player mode to grampa-granddaughter mode in the middle of a game. Not good.
“Livy, you have to use a mitt. It’s a rule.”
“I don’t care, Grampa! I catch better without the stupid thing. And besides, it’s too hot.”
It was now my call as we went eye-to-eye and she flashed her adorable, know-it-all grin. She had me, and she knew it. She proceeded to do a marvelous job at shortstop – without her mitt.
I was reminded of this exchange when the Secretary of Homeland Security recently announced a new Obama program to exempt from immigration enforcement some 1.4 million illegal immigrants under the age of 30. In a news conference, Obama said he issued the edict because it “was the right thing to do.” In grand fashion, it just confirmed the lesson of my encounter with Livy – a rule or law doesn’t mean much if the one charged with its enforcement chooses to ignore the charge.
The audacity of Obama’s edict cannot be overstated. Few will take issue with the substance of the edict; many will be bothered by the existence of the edict. It got the attention of nearly everyone, including Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia. In a somewhat shocking move, Scalia described the details of Obama’s edict in the opinion (dissenting in part) that he rendered a few days ago in the Arizona S.B. 1070 immigration case. He then made the following profound observation:
But there has come to pass, and is with us today, the specter that Arizona and the States that support it predicted: A Federal Government that does not want to enforce the immigration laws as written, and leaves the States’ borders unprotected against immigrants whom those laws would exclude. So the issue is a stark one. Are the sovereign States at the mercy of the Federal Executive’s refusal to enforce the Nation’s immigration laws?
A good way of answering that question is to ask: Would the States conceivably have entered into the Union if the Constitution itself contained the Court’s holding? Today’s judgment surely fails that test.
Of course, Obama’s proclamation raises a host of “How Can He Do It?” questions. What about the rule of law? The Constitution? His oath of office? Separation of powers? Checks and balances? If the President has the power to unilaterally and prospectively exempt a defined class of citizens from the law, where does it leave Congress? Is new legislation just nothing more than an addition to a wish list that’s all predicated on the biases, ideology, and political interests of the current oval office occupant?
Apparently Obama has figured out a way to get past or ignore these troubling questions. It kind of gives a whole new meaning to the phrase “Executive Privilege.” Imagine the possibilities of such a king-like power. On the tax front, Obama could get his dream deal by just allowing all the Bush tax cuts to expire on schedule at year end and then proclaiming that nothing will be done to enforce the higher rates against those whose incomes are under $200,000. And if you’re a Romney fan, consider that Romney, if elected, could get his desired 10-point drop in the maximum corporate tax rate by just proclaiming that the higher rates will no longer be enforced against corporations who earn more than $75,000 a year. A little creativity can quickly trigger some scary possibilities with this Presidential power.
Sound absurd? It’s the outer limits of what can happen when election-year politics cause powerful, desperate leaders to take powerful, desperate actions. And as is so often the case in such extreme situations, the saddest thing is what it says about the American people.
Polls confirm that two-thirds of Americans like Obama’s edict. They see it only as a bold measure to eliminate something that nobody likes – deportation risks for honorable illegal immigrants who were brought to the U.S. as children. The broader, far more troubling issues of Obama’s action don’t even register. No doubt Obama was banking on this when he decided, once again, to showcase his “the end justifies the means” brand of politics.
But on this one, no one should be fooled into thinking that the ultimate goal is relief for illegal immigrants. It’s all about Obama’s reelection. Obama has done nothing significant to further the interests of comprehensive immigration reform that would benefit all illegal immigrants even though the opportunity was fully teed up when he took office. All he had to do was demonstrate a willingness and capacity to secure the borders, submit a comprehensive bill to Congress, and then exercise some leadership to get the deal done. The American people and key players on both sides of the aisle would have supported the effort. But he has done none of these. Real relief for illegal immigrants has not been a priority. His political interests have been strategically served by keeping Americans frustrated, scared, and divided over weak border security and a broken immigration system.
It all suggests that Obama’s big edict may have one fundamental thing in common with my encounter with Livy. We both decided to shirk our duty to enforce the rules entrusted to us in order to score points for ourselves. And, for that reason, perhaps it also suggests a common conclusion regarding our capacities as leaders. In my case, it’s an inescapable conclusion: grampas make lousy coaches.