Beto O'Rourke devotees like to think of him as the second coming of Robert F. Kennedy. But on this week's "Meet the Press" he channeled his inner Angela Merkel as he responded to a question from host Chuck Todd.
Asked Todd of the Democratic presidential hopeful, "On the asylum laws, do you have any empathy towards the administration right now that says they're being overwhelmed here, they need some temporary help from Congress to deal with this, whether it's maybe changing the asylum law? Are you at all sympathetic to that?"
To understand the significance of the Merkel comparison, we need some background. Back in 2015, when many Germans were feeling overwhelmed by the influx of refugees, Merkel uttered a welcoming phrase for which she is lionized by many – including Harvard, which last week gave her an honorary degree. She was also villainized by many, including the far-right Alternative for Germany party, whose popularity rose along with a broad populist backlash against what many Germans saw as excessive and careless generosity.
"Wir schaffen das," Merkel said with a jaunty confidence. "We can handle it."
Then reality set it. The public roared. Merkel acknowledged the need for controls, but not before Germany had accepted more than 1.5 million people from Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq, and other countries wracked by political, social, and economic tumult. Under pressure from critics in her center-right party, Merkel announced last fall that she will not for another term in 2021.
"Enthusiasm for helping desperate and displaced people fleeing fighting, poverty and other issues has cooled considerable, even though millions of Germans continue to wholeheartedly support refugees," the Los Angeles Times reported in December. It noted that Germany is spending more than $30 billion annually to provide housing, services, and direct financial support for the refugees. "The initial outpouring of support that is summed up in the term Willkomenskultur, or culture of welcoming refugees, has since been replaced by hangover-like worries among Germans," the paper reported. "Some fear that their magnanimity is being exploited by people from countries where there is neither war nor political persecution – basic grounds for obtaining asylum."
The parallels to the influx of Central Americans into the U.S. are clear. But Beto is all-in with the early Angela. Here is how he responded to Chuck Todd's question: "My empathy and my sympathy is with the families who've had to flee the deadliest countries on the face of the planet, who are met with the greatest cruelty and inhumanity in this country's history. We have the capacity to be able to take care of those families."
Todd pressed his question in pragmatic terms: "Can the city of El Paso keep handling more and more migrants coming over the border?" O'Rourke didn't hesitate. "This country, the United States of America absolutely can do this," he said.
Then he made a misleading comparison. "We had 400,000 apprehensions last year, Chuck. In the second year of the George W. Bush administration, there were 1.6 million apprehensions on the U.S. Mexico border." He failed to note that the Central Americans are on pace to triple last year's numbers. And apparently he sees no difference in the policy implications, logistical challenge and expense of detaining Central American families looking for asylum and arresting Mexicans who will be returned in a few hours to the border so they can try again.
O'Rourke pressed righteously on: "If we treat people with the humanity that they deserve, if we release them from detention into a family case-management program to ensure that they follow our laws at a fraction of the cost [of the current system] to improve our security and ensure that the asylum laws that are on the books are followed by this country, we will be safer, more secure, and we will be living our values."
O'Rourke supporters believe he is pointing the way to a more inclusive and humane policy and away from the cruelty of Donald Trump. I'd say he's pointing the way to another Democratic debacle in 2020.