By Ruben Navarrette Jr.
Washington Post Writers Group
President Barack Obama has a new foil. He spent his first term blaming George W. Bush when things went wrong. Now that he broke his promise to take executive action on immigration this summer, and left many of his supporters angry and disillusioned, he's pinning the blame on — of all people — those child refugees from Central America who came across the U.S.-Mexico border to escape violence and mayhem at home.
When did our leader become such a louse?
One thing we can say: On immigration, Obama has been remarkably consistent. As in consistently bad for the cause he promised to champion: comprehensive immigration reform, which includes a path to legal status for some of the estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants in the United States.
It's clear to those of us who try to follow every bounce of the dizzying immigration debate that the president never intended to pull the trigger on some sort of executive action to improve the lives of people he doesn't care anything about.
Based on his actions while in office, Obama is allied with the restrictionist wing of the Democratic Party, which believes that illegal immigrants undermine U.S. workers by competing for jobs and lowering wages. For those who subscribe to this view, it follows that legalizing millions of immigrants would make matters much worse by putting them in a position where they're able to compete for more jobs.
Why doesn't the president just admit where he's coming from, rather than blaming a bunch of kids who sought refuge from conditions that anyone in his right mind would try to escape?
Obama told Meet the Press moderator Chuck Todd that the recent surge of unaccompanied minors changed the political equation.
"The truth of the matter," Obama said, "is that the politics did shift midsummer because of that problem."
Unbeknownst to many Americans, the administration has, as Obama said in that interview, "systematically worked through the problem" — to the point where the number of minors crossing the border has dropped significantly since its peak in June. All it took was abandoning principles and backing off earlier assurances that the kids would be given a fair hearing. It turns out that having "worked through the problem" is a euphemism for denying en masse applications for asylum, emptying shelters that had been housing child refugees, and deporting thousands of desperate children back to dangerous places without due process.
Finally, the president said, "When I take executive action, I want to make sure that it's sustainable."
Unbelievable. Who knew that a president who has ignored, neglected and avoided immigration reform for much of his presidency cared so much about the concept that — rather than do the wrong thing — he preferred to do nothing?
Democrats who support this administration and yet still claim to want immigration reform need to wake up and choose one option or the other. These folks have been dealt an awful hand. And so, they're falling back on their natural instinct and blaming the Democrats' favorite villain: George W. Bush.
So what, they say, if Obama hasn't fulfilled his promise to reform the immigration system — either on his own through executive order, or by working with Congress? Nothing happened during eight years of the Bush administration, either.
It's pointless to compare Bush's failure to deliver immigration reform with what has been, over the last five and a half years, Obama's cynical shell game. No matter who is president, it is always going to be difficult to achieve immigration reform as long as you have an unlikely coalition of union supporters on the left and nativists on the right standing together to torpedo the effort.
Still, Bush had a plan: guest workers, legal status and border security. He challenged members of his own party, sent Labor Secretary Elaine Chao and Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez to Congress often to work out a bill, enlisted Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff and Vice President Dick Cheney to make the argument that — after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001 — reform made us safer, and repeated the unpopular but honest claim that illegal immigrants did jobs that Americans won't do. Yes, Bush should have done more to get immigration reform through Congress. Yet, at least he was in the arena.
Spinners are going to spin. Nevertheless, on immigration reform, the last two presidents don't compare. Bush tried and failed. But Obama failed to try.
Reach Ruben Navarrette at rubenrubennavarrette.com.