WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama seemed to reveal his real feelings about democracy and about Americans when he improvised large sections of his Monday Rose Garden speech on immigration.
Reporters in the Rose Garden read the prepared text on monitors on each side of the stage, and tracked Obama’s apparently heart-felt additions, which minimized respect for public opinion and for the native-born population of the United States.
His speech was staged to lash the House GOP leadership for rejecting the Senate’s June 2013 immigration bill. The bill was built with the support of groups like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and labor unions — and was boosted by a huge business-funded lobbying front, including groups of evangelicals and police chiefs. House Speaker John Boehner told Obama June 25 he would not push the bill forward. Boehner’s decision came after polls showing most Americans want less immigration, not more, and after the shocking June 11 primary defeat of his deputy, Majority Leader Eric Cantor.
On Monday, Obama’s impromptu additions did not highlight the views of actual voters, but identified the wishes of various lobbying groups as the center of government.
The Senate’s immigration changes “already enjoy the wide support of the American people. It’s very rare where you get labor, business, evangelicals, law enforcement all agreeing on what needs to be done. And at some point, that should be enough,” he ad-libbed.
After the speech, The Daily Caller asked a White House official to identify polls that support Obama’s claim that the Senate’s immigration bill is popular. In response, the official said that the approval of business and unions, and of law enforcement and religious groups, was the equivalent of popular approval.
Obama’s comments minimize the role of voters in helping guide government actions via democratic elections. Instead, they elevate the idea that government should set laws after bargaining with professional interest groups. The technical term for that form of government is not democracy. It is “corporatism.”
The GOP’s tea party wing, however, calls it “crony capitalism.”
In another heartfelt passage that he added to the speech, Obama suggested that America can’t be America without a constant inflow of immigrants. “One of the things we celebrate on Friday [July 4] — one of the things that make this country great — is that we are a nation of immigrants,” said Obama.
In fact, America is a nation of Americans plus some immigrants. For example, the nation’s population of 308 million in 2012 included 40 million foreign-born people. That’s a near-record, but is is just 13 percent of the population, or one in eight people.
“Our people come from every corner of the globe,” Obama continued.
Immigration “is what makes us special. That’s what makes us unique,” he insisted.
“Throughout our history, we’ve come here in wave after wave from everywhere understanding that there was something about this place where the whole was greater than the sum of its parts; that all the different cultures and ideas and energy would come together and create something new,” he said.
The foreign-born population declined from its record level of 14.7 percent in 1910 because voters supported reform bills in the early 1920s that largely ended immigration. In the following decades, Americans enjoyed enormous increases in wealth and social equality. The foreign-born level reached a historic low of 4.7 percent in 1970, but has since tripled to 13 percent because the 1965 immigration bill spurred large-scale immigration from Latin countries.
In his speech, Obama repeatedly put immigrants — not Americans — at the center of American life.
If an immigration bill passes, he said, “maybe more families who’ve been living here for years, whose children are often U.S. citizens, who are our neighbors and our friends, whose children are our kids’ friends and go to school with them, and play on ball teams with them, maybe those families would get to stay together,” he said.
But on the 2012 campaign trail, when he needed votes from Americans, Obama downplayed immigrants and touted Americans.
“I’m betting on American workers. I’m betting on American industry,” he said in Ohio on Sept. 26.
“I’m proud that I bet on America’s workers and American ingenuity and the American auto industry,” he said Nov. 1 in Boulder, Colo.
“I said, ‘Let’s bet on America’s workers.’ … Now GM is number one again,” he said Aug. 9 in Colorado Springs, Colo.
Even at the end of his June 30 speech, Obama tried to characterize the July 4 holiday as a celebration of immigration.
Immigrants and native-born Americans “won this country’s freedom together,” he said while quoting from the prepared text.
“We built this country together. We defended this country together. It makes us special. It makes us strong. It makes us Americans. That’s worth celebrating. And that’s what I want not just House Republicans but all of us as Americans to remember,” he added at the end of his speech.