Yesterday, President Obama announced his plan for executive amnesty for illegal immigrants.
Of course he has no authority to do it. Don't ask me. Ask him: "we've got three branches of government. Congress passes the law. The executive branch's job is to enforce and implement those laws." This is basic Schoolhouse Rock kind of stuff.
I would quote from Obama's speech last night about how he justifies the reversal, but what's the point? It's all lip-flapping. He's not trying to convince anybody because he's not asking for anybody's permission. He's not asking the new Republican-controlled Congress, which hasn't even convened yet. And he sure isn't listening to the American people, who just voted for the congressional majority whose will he is flouting.
I found it revealing that Obama's announcement was not carried live by the big three television networks, but was carried by Spanish-language networks like Univision. That tells you everything you need to know. Obama wanted it to be broadcast loud and clear to a special-interest demographic that he believes will rally to his side--but he wants the general public to know as little about it as possible.
That's what makes this an unusually cynical moment. We have a president who has just declared his indifference to the Constitution and to the consent of the governed.
You know that moment in every dystopian science fiction movie when the conniving villain--Chancellor Palpatine or the like--has been trying to subvert the system and finally takes that one extra step over the line from scheming politician to dictator? I'm beginning to think we just had that moment. The point of last night's speech is that the law is now irrelevant, Congress is irrelevant, voters are irrelevant, and the president can do whatever he wants.
What makes this feel like a turning point is not so much what President Palpatine--excuse me, President Obama--actually did, but rather the acquiescence of the press. This can be seen in the flurry of articles debating the merits of Obama's reform of the immigration system, as if that were the issue, as if there were absolutely nothing irregular about the way those changes have been decreed.
The ironic thing is that the media and Hollywood types have always convinced themselves, as George Lucas did, that their villains were metaphors for George W. Bush or a cautionary tale about the evils of the right. But here we are, the Old Republic is being dissolved, and it's their hero who is doing it. They find themselves on the side of the Empire. (Or the Alliance. Yes, I'm looking at you, Joss Whedon.)
There is no greater demonstration of the imperial character of the new regime than the nature of the great "favor" Obama has done for his target audience, the Hispanic voters. Immigration is an important issue for them because it is their friends, neighbors, and relatives who are most likely to be targeted for deportation. But what has Obama actually done for these "undocumented" immigrants? He has granted them permission to stay and work in America--at his sole pleasure.
That's the crucial point. Because he is acting in defiance of existing law, illegal immigrants who seek refuge under Obama's plan will actually gain zero legal protection. Their immunity from deportation rests entirely on the will of the executive, not on the law of the land. So it ends whenever the chief executive says it does.
I'll quote from Obama's speech for one thing: his description of how this faux-amnesty program works:
If you've been in America for more than five years; if you have children who are American citizens or legal residents; if you register, pass a criminal background check, and you're willing to pay your fair share of taxes--you'll be able to apply to stay in this country temporarily, without fear of deportation. You can come out of the shadows and get right with the law.
That last part is a blatant, cruel lie. Those who are foolish enough to register under this program will not "get right with the law." They will get right with the current administration, for this particular moment. But if the political winds shift--or in two years when a new president is sworn in--all bets are off.
Who would volunteer to identify themselves to the government under those terms?
What Obama is doing is creating a class of people--possibly millions of them--who are dependent solely on the favor of the emperor. As Eduardo Alvarez put it on Twitter: "A hostage class is born." This is the real essence of Obama's play for the Hispanic vote: they have to keep him or one of his gang in the White House, or cousin Felipe gets trundled back across the border.
This fits the broader pattern of Obama's administration. By a combination of design and incompetence, he has built a system in which every part of his agenda has been accomplished primarily by executive order and can only be sustained based on the will of the executive.
Even with his signature legislative achievement, ObamaCare, consider how much of the actual law has been changed from how it was written, altered by executive waivers and fanciful reinterpretations. This is what the Halbig case is about. The law as written specifically banned subsidies outside the state exchanges, but ObamaCare needs those subsidies to mask how the law increases the cost of health insurance. So the president ordered the IRS to reinterpret the law to allow them. Without this kind of executive rewrite, ObamaCare collapses.
Aye, there's the rub. As Stephen Miller asks: "What's Obama's historical legacy if everything he does can be undone via executive order?" Look at the bind he has put his party in. If their entire agenda is enacted by executive fiat, then everything depends on an unbroken string of victories in presidential campaigns.
One lesson from all those science fiction dystopias is that the dictator's power grab always breeds discontent and rebellion. In two years, a lot of Democrats could be looking around at the wreckage of their agenda and cursing the day they embraced the temporary illusion of unilateral executive power.