Monthly Archives: September 2009

Obama and the Race/Violence Divide

In recent weeks Nancy Pelosi and former President Jimmy Carter made much needed meta-comments about the increasingly violent tenor of the current political discourse in this country.

Pelosi reflected upon the violent language not experienced in this country since the 1960s, and Carter observed the racist motivations behind a lot of the anti Obama attacks. Both Pelosi’s and Carter’s comments were dismissed by a good many in the mainstream press, to my chagrin.

It’s an important discussion to have, particularly since in my opinion both Carter and Pelosi are correct in their observations.  (see Politico)

But let me temper that a bit with the following context. All Obama agonists are not Racist and race is not the root of much of the anti Obama criticism. During the early Clinton years, the right made a similar effort to delegitimize his presidency. These were the days Rush Limbaugh started a count on the number of days left in the new president’s term, and Clinton agonists discredited his health reform efforts by jiggling shiny trinkets in front of the media about alleged mistresses and Whitewater land deals in Arkansas.  Taylor Branch’s new bio of Clinton, the Clinton Tapes reminds us of how the right came quite close to delegitimizing the Clinton presidency.   Clinton’s opponents may have been racist (some of them), but the germane point is that they hated the Clintonian commitment to relying on government to solve complex social problems.

Same thing Obama faces.

Race is being used as a tool to bring Obama down,  but it is not the source of (all) the animosity. I think the more comprehensive source is ideological.  The big divide between red states and blue states, and between people who believe government has a positive role to play and people who would rather rely on unaccountable market forces that  are structured to exclude millions of have nots in society.  To the extent that opponents of a strong federal government historically back to Antibellum days have also been racist is part of the story now playing out.

It’s an ideology  thing about the role government.  Difficult to see how the president’s commitment to post partisanship abides such a tectonic divide.  And race fuels the animosity. It makes for a less communicative divide, and potentially more violent future.

In the meantime, it is time to heed Pelosi’s and Carter’s comments.



Immigration reform, but at what cost?

(my Oped in today’s Baltimore Sun)

When South Carolina Republican Congressman Joe Wilsonbarked out the words “You lie!” to President Barack Obamaduring the president’s address to both houses of Congress, he previewed the tone of the coming immigration debate that Sen.Harry Reid and the White House promise will follow health care reform.

It is going to get ugly.

When Senate Democrats quickly responded to Mr. Wilson’s impertinent comments by “drilling deeper” into their proposals to make sure that undocumented immigrants are even more explicitly excluded from proposed health care exchanges, the die was cast, it seems, for the continued demonization of undocumented immigrants.

As optimistic as I was several months ago for a more progressive immigration policy, I now fear that the Obama White House may be looking in the rear-view mirror for direction on immigration reform.

Consider that President Obama committed to completing the 700-mile colossus of a border wall (at $3.9 million dollars per mile) and extended the government’s commitment to Boeing Inc. to build and oversee construction of a virtual border fence.

Mr. Obama will also extend the abusive 287(g) program – used by authorities in 23 states, including the Frederick County Sheriff’s Department – that gives state and local police permission to enforce federal immigration laws and has resulted in racial profiling as well as the destruction of families through the removal of undocumented immigrants who had been picked up for minor infractions.

It gets worse: The administration has committed $195 million to the “Secure Communities Initiative,” which sends the fingerprints of every immigrant booked at a local jail to federal immigration authorities. This includes immigrants who have never been convicted of anything and may nonetheless find themselves in removal proceedings as a result.

It also continued the much-criticized Real ID program under a new name (Pass ID); the program still turns state-issued driver’s licenses into national identification cards. Finally, it supports an electronic verification system that screens job applicants but has a high error rate and cannot account for fraud and identity theft.

Mr. Obama has doubled down on former President George W. Bush‘s enforcement agenda for two reasons. First, he believes that state and local police, along with state-of-the-art enforcement technology, can serve an effective immigration-control purpose. Second, his early support for Bush policies serves a strategic political agenda: appeasing political opponents who insist on securing the border as a precursor to “regularization” (establishing a path to legalization), which is the core of his comprehensive reform.

The problem is that “securing the border” is an undefinable, unmeasurable and thus unachievable goal. The only measurable thread here has to do with deterring undocumented immigration, which these measures fail to do. The cause of the recent decrease in undocumented immigration is the recession, not the pilot virtual fence in Arizona. The only winners are military and surveillance contractors – and Mr. Obama’s political enemies.

If Joe Wilson and the health care debate provide a clue, the coming immigration debate is likely to be a mean-spirited political circus. The spectacle is likely to play down to society’s most primal fears about immigrants and force additional compromises on what is regrettably an already compromised approach.

It is also likely to embolden Mr. Obama’s enemies to force upon him irrational demands and even more punitive enforcement measures as the trade-off for a watered-down comprehensive overhaul of immigration policy.

The president may eventually get immigration reform that has a more rational visa quota system and family reunification, perhaps even a path toward regularizing the status of undocumented immigrants – but at what cost? The victory may be undermined by further concessions to conservatives in Congress and the border militarization and surveillance contractors who support them.

Robert Koulish is an associate professor of law and society at Philadelphia University and author of the forthcoming book “Immigration and American Democracy: Subverting the Rule of Law.” His e-mail

Copyright © 2009, The Baltimore Sun

Joe Wilson’s War against ‘illegal aliens’

South Carolina Republican Congressman Joe Wilson interrupted President Obama’s speech on health care reform the other night shouting, “you lie.” In last night’s show, Rachel Maddow led her broadcast with the Wilson fallout.

Since Wilson interrupted Obama’s speech, this back bencher has become a cause celebre among right wingnuts. Among other things has received plaudits from Operation Rescue’s Randall Terry;  Tea-Party Patriots; Palmetto Scoop gave away “I’m with Joe Wilson” T-shirts, others urging folks to open their wallets. Wilson himself issued a YouTube video trying to raise money from those who think Obama “want’s to give health care to illegals.”

What I found most alarming about Wilson’s verbal attack during Obama’s speech and this aftermath is how this wingnut extreme now drives the debate.  Such lunatic outbursts get instant legitimacy by the media and then become fodder for fund raising .

Simply does not matter, I guess, that fact checkers show that Wilson’s outburst, however rude,  is also simply not supported by the facts. Obama is not a liar. Obama’s plan does not provide health care for undocumented immigrants, and neither did the Dem. House bill issued in August. See for example,  ABC news fact check

In my opinion it is more alarming that so few people have the courage to criticize the House bill and Obama proposal for not covering undocumented immigrants. These human beings still seem politic ally expendable even by proprogressive dems.

This morning it was reported that max baucus and Kent Conrad are drilling back into the Senate bill to add further and more explicit exclusions regarding ‘illegal aliens’ and access to the health care ‘exchange.’

This is plain stupid from either a public health, or a budgetary point of view. Like it or not undoucmented immigrants by the millions are our neighbors and coworkers. When they get sick, we are a doorknob away from the same illness.  And who pays for emergency medical services for the uninsured? we all do.

Health care coverage ought to cover persons in the country regardless of legal status. plain and simple.  Sadly, today’s political climate that make the Joe Wilson’s among us into heroes and instant celebs, will not allow for a rational dialogue about undocumented immigrants, which offers up important info regarding the upcoming immigration reform debate. It is going to be a circus.

Wilson’s outburst should ring alarm bells for anyone who hopes the coming immigration reform debate in this country does not turn into a complete circus where rational dialogue is drowned out by distortions and untrue statements driven by hate.