As I witnessed the birth of my first child on July 4th, screams echoed throughout the delivery room. The anguish wasn’t coming from my stoic wife, but rather from the doctor, who was irate over Obamacare. After practicing medicine for 17 years, her malpractice insurance now represents half of her annual salary: a sum she must borrow with interest in order to pay in one lump sum.
Her anger didn’t center on the legislation itself. Nor was she outraged that the congressional leadership staff who wrote the bill exempted themselves from its effects, an act which aspired to new heights of open corruption. The doctor’s rage was in how the bill was sold to the American public. The road to Obamacare was paved with tales of wont and neglect by the health care system. After a year of mythologizing, people were left thinking of America as a land where babies with whooping cough are swaddled in old newspapers and abandoned on the street; where the elderly bleed to death upon empty boulevards. It makes for passionate rhetoric: but it fails the truth test.
Then, as if foreshadowing Obama’s new interest in immigration, she added, “Foreign citizens fly in from other nations specifically to be treated here, by us, free of cost.”
That noble country isn’t what Barack Obama chooses to see when he looks west from the balcony of the White House. He depicted a different image of America. And history teaches that leaders who choose to see only horrors write policies that make their once-imagined horrors a reality for everyone. The consequence is already emerging: the best and the brightest are no longer going into medicine.
The administration has now set its sights on reforming immigration. To be certain, this is not going to happen.
Even in the seemingly hopeless hours of the health care debate, as ironclad deadlines slipped, a bill with the title “health care” was a certainty. But unlike the impersonal details of health care, for most Americans immigration is a purely ideological issue. It would take a leader who is visibly moved by America’s past to address an issue so central to our identity. This president does not possess that “America First” capital.
Barack Obama is an avowed globalist who spent the early months of his presidency apologizing for America. Later, his 2009 speech in Cairo puzzled rather than convinced. His hosts were left wondering how a man could possess so much visible contempt for the country that made him president.
We are a nation of immigrants. For the better part of our history, the collective message to those immigrating was “you are joining the most successful endeavor in human history. Celebrate why you came here, not where you came from.”
Globalization has changed that expectation, cooling the flames that once fueled the “melting pot.” New citizens aren’t homogenizing as quickly as the economic survival of their predecessors once dictated. In the urban centers of today, new immigrants can pass a lifetime without uttering a word of English. But there has been a quiet-but-rising frustration within a country in which 84% support “English as the official language” but constantly find themselves being asked to “Press 2 for Spanish.” Few discuss it, but those in the White House ought to for the sake of the president they are paid to advise. Unlike health care, immigration reform will not lend itself to the scorched-earth class politics that this administration has perfected as science.
To harness the issue successfully will require political imagination from the White House. To start they could reverse the loophole providing that any child born in the United States is automatically a citizen. That is a relic from a time when it took more than a Boeing 747 to get to America. Today, that policy inspires only danger and desperation from fence jumpers and women arriving in American airports 8 ½ months pregnant. It mocks those who wait years for legal citizenship. Yet to expect that Obama will prove to be the architect of a grand new policy on immigration, rife with nuts and bolts detail, is to ignore the recent past.
Bold imagination is what this moment calls for. Without it, his advisors lead him down the path of final political ruin.
Eben Carle served in the White House as an Associate Director on the Homeland Security Council from 2008-2009. He received a master’s degree in American studies from Columbia University and is currently writing his first novel.