Why the politics of bad faith could sink immigration reform

Matt K. Lewis Senior Contributor
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After four years of exhibiting a sort of false bravado, Republican efficacy seems to be reaching a nadir.

Since Obama’s re-election, conservative skepticism has transcended long-held doubts about governmental competence. The new trend seems to be to also view Republican leaders — and even ourselves — as impotent.

Rush Limbaugh tapped into this pessimism yesterday, when, during his interview with Sen. Marco Rubio, he attempted to undermine immigration reform by saying: “Obama doesn’t care about enforcing exist law.”

“I just remind everybody,” Rubio responded, “Obama’s not gonna be president forever.”

Even that wasn’t enough. In a subsequent segment, Limbaugh floated (though he didn’t predict it) the idea that Obama might get a third term.

Limbaugh’s not alone. Over at RedState, Erick Erickson dismissed Rubio’s plan, writing: “The White House will claim the border is secure. The Republicans will claim it is not. The border will never be made impenetrable and we will proceed down this distracting, argumentative line to no end.”

Erickson might be right, but this speaks to a larger problem. For a society to function properly, the public simply must trust that the rule of law will be honored. (I’ve written a lot about how our society no longer trusts institutions or leaders — this is why that matters.)

The problem with Erickson’s argument — and, again, he may well be right — is that his argument could be used to block almost anything anybody wants to do. (For example: “They claim the troop ‘surge’ will only be temporary” … “Eighteen year olds are supposed to register for the selective service, but you know not everyone will,” etc.)

Another observation: Conservatives have long portrayed a schizophrenic Obama who was (depending on the circumstances) either utterly incompetent or deviously brilliant.

Today, however, we seem to have settled on casting him in almost mythic status. He is omnipotent. He can never be beaten or outwitted. The best option, thus, is to do nothing — to let sleeping dogs lie, so to speak.

More Limbaugh:

They’re running the no-huddle offense on us.  We don’t even have time to catch our breath.  They’re running play after play after play.  We don’t even know what defense we’re gonna run. We don’t get new defensive personnel on the field. We can barely keep up.  But we never even end up on offense.

It seems the conservatives who are most skeptical of immigration reform don’t oppose the merits of Rubio’s framework, so much as they simply refuse to believe it would ever be enacted or enforced.

In other words, they simply don’t trust that the law will be obeyed. They believe Democrats can do whatever they want, and the best conservatives can hope for is to slow them down and not give them any ideas.

This is very destructive for democracy. I wish I could say the cynicism and paranoia was entirely unfounded.

Matt K. Lewis