Why I hope Hagel wins

Mickey Kaus Columnist
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It’s the weekend and nobody’s reading this anyway, right? So this is just between us: I hold no brief for Chuck Hagel–never understood his appeal, his defenders seem mainly to hate his enemies. But I kind of hope he gets confirmed for Defense secretary.

I also hope Republicans cave on the sequester and Congress passes a bit of gun control. I hope the GOP fails in all efforts to block other Obama appointees, however misguided and partisan, to boards and agencies. GOP strategist Mike Murphy has laid out a surefire plan for Obama that would let him shave entitlements, tame his party, rein in the deficit, putting the nation on a glidepath to fiscal solvency. I hope that doesn’t happen either.

Why? Because immigration reform–i.e. amnesty–is by far the most important issue facing Congress this year. Obama’s aides and advisers certainly seem to know this.  Tax and spending decisions can be reversed, after all.  Same for whatever mild gun controls Congress might pass. “Climate change” initiatives could have a big impact–but they’ll never get through the House.

“Comprehensive immigration reform” just might. And the decision to legalize 11 million illegal immigrants, plus whatever equal number of relatives they bring in–and the potential to attract yet another fresh wave of illegals–would cause huge changes to the nation and the labor market. These changes, unlike tax increases, will be irrevocable. Once people become legal American residents they aren’t going to be made illegal. Certainly not if they’re on a “pathway to citizenship.”

If you support an “enforcement first/amnesty second” approach, as I do, you would understandably be feeling a bit beleaguered right now. It’s not just that the Obama administration is against you, cooking up statistics showing “record deportations.” The press is against you. The elder statesmen are against you. The juiceboxers are against you. Even Fox News is against you. Practically all the Democrats are against you and the Hispanicked Republican elite is against you too. Marco Rubio has sold out your cause and (not coincidentally) gets on the cover of Time. Big donors are pressuring think tanks not to promote opposition to immediate legalization. Longtime amnesty supporters on the right are starting to play rough–Grover (“Glass House“) Norquist having apparently decided to attack the organizations (like Numbers USA and Center for Immigration Studies) that beat him last time.

It’s a full court press, all hands on deck–perhaps because amnesty supporters know that if they don’t get what they want this time when will they? They may have to wait for the border to be actually secure before getting a second chance. (Even the propagandistic Kleinblog item routinely cited for the idea that enforcement goals have been met actually notes that the border is only 57% under “effective control,” up from 31% but way short of impervious to another undocumented wave.)

What might stop amnesty? Well, the House Republicans, of course. Why might they do it? Because they are pissed off after losing a string of fights to Obama over … Hagel and the sequester and spending and gun control.

This thought applies one of two apparent theories of Washington political dynamics. The first, more familiar theory is grounded in competitive sports and war. There’s a big battlefield. One side starts racking up victories, it gains ground and “momentum.” It’s “on a roll,” Meanwhile, the other side is “demoralized,” in “disarray.” After it loses again, it might go into “retreat” and stop offering meaningful resistance. This is the theory Rahm Emanuel was implicilty citing when he argued that small victories, at the beginning of the Obama Presidency, would lay the groundwork for bigger victories. It’s the theory the press is alluding to when it says a Hagel defeat, coming so soon after the Susan Rice’s withdrawal, would be a crippling setback for Obama.

The second theory is based more on hydraulics and human emotions. It argues that Washington wants to be in a sort of equilibrium. Victories don’t beget further victories. They beget resentment, which will express itself somehow until equilibrium is restored.   If Obama wins the Hagel nomination, that doesn’t mean the Republicans are going to leave the field. This isn’t American Idol. They aren’t going anywhere, at least for two years. They’ll filibuster and block until they are appeased either by victories of their own or by concessions. (The only way to prevent this dynamic would be to deny the opposition the power in the first place, by electing Speaker Pelosi.) This theory explains why the default mode in Washington is less intimidating and defeating than sucking up.

I buy the second theory. In my lifetime, at least, Washington (in between elections) seems to have operated less like a football game and more like a dysfunctional family. Everyone has to have something to take away or else all hell breaks loose. The more Republicans get out of the next few months apart from immigration, the more they’re likely to let Obama have his amnesty. And the less they get …

Go Chuck!

Mickey Kaus