It's STILL the Economy, Stupid

By W.D. Reasoner on June 26, 2012

The first-term president begins to put a wrap on his four years in office and shifts into campaign mode with all the benefits and advantages of incumbency, the trappings of office: travel on Air Force One to ostensibly official events that can be used to amplify his accomplishments; the power of the bully pulpit to command a substantial portion of media attention and send his messages to the American people.

There is only one dark spot on the near-limitless horizon, and that's the economy. The opposing candidate, a state governor, sensing weakness in that spot, pushes and pushes using a mantra coined by his political advisor, "It's the economy, stupid." The incumbent falters, is pictured as out of touch with the common man — a depiction he can't shake — and the outsider governor rushes to victory at the finish line. The year was 1992 and the candidate of course was Bill Clinton.

Shift forward 20 years, and the parallels between then and now cannot be missed. They are clear, if not precise. For instance, there is the obvious difference of political party reversal between incumbent and outsider. Political observers also point out the difference in the demographic of the electorate at large; Hispanic voters, depending on their turnout, may prove key to who wins and who loses.

Courting that vote, the Obama administration, in a naked political move, has declared a mini-amnesty through executive action that will block deportation for two years for young illegal aliens fitting certain criteria. It's clever; calculated to lure Hispanic voters on one hand (at least, those who are in favor of lax immigration laws — I do not accept as axiomatic that this is a one-size-fits-all cloak for Hispanic voters), and to put his opponent in a box on the other (if Mr. Romney decries the measure, according to this calculation, he estranges Hispanics by appearing to be inflexible and hard-hearted; if he endorses it, he loses the Tea Party adherents and conservative base which is already suspicious of his conservative credentials).

But looked at closely, Obama's move was simply a sideshow designed to distract the electorate from the fundamental flaws in an economy that's still on life-support. Consider carefully: Despite grand pronouncements at the beginning of his first term, the president was unable to bring to the legislative floor any broad-based amnesty proposals, and therefore was reduced to imposing a series of bureaucratic measures on the organs of government charged with administering and enforcing immigration laws. Were Mr. Obama to be reelected, would he be able to achieve so-called "comprehensive immigration reform" in his second term? It seems doubtful in the extreme, given the present makeup of the Congress, particularly the House of Representatives. That leaves him destined to disappoint those looking for substance, continuing to rely instead on more measures designed to atrophy the immigration enforcement arms of government.

Both the president and his opponent recently spoke at the NALEO (National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials) conference in Orlando, Fla. Playing to the audience, the president continued to hype his amnesty directive and the "need" for comprehensive legislative amnesty as a significant part of his remarks; Mr. Romney, needless to say, spoke briefly and in measured terms about the way the administration had chosen to undertake this temporary relief from deportation.

But allowing the incumbent to continue highlighting immigration as an electoral issue at all is a dangerous distraction — a one-trick pony that will continue performing over and over until someone calls it what it is. This point of view may seem at first blush strange for someone who writes for the Center for Immigration Studies. Truly it's not. It's just that I think immigration is much too complex and sensitive a subject to be bandied about as a cheap and illusory way to garner reelection. To mix metaphors, what the administration has done is like most coin and card tricks: magic by misdirection. It is also a shameful misuse of the bureaucracy, which should not, should never be, used as a tool for reelection of an incumbent.

For exactly these reasons, I wish that Mr. Romney, during his remarks to NALEO, had more adequately redirected the dialogue to where it needs to be, which is on jobs, decent education, safety from crime, availability of mortgages, etc.

Hispanic voters are not uni-dimensional. They share the same hopes and concerns as other voters in our country right now; perhaps more so, because their unemployment rates are higher, they are slipping into poverty more quickly, they are less likely to be able to afford a home at the best interest rates, and they may very well live in neighborhoods where crime rates are higher. Speak to them — thoughtfully and in detail sufficient to show you know and understand something about their plight — and you may garner their vote, notwithstanding any philosophical differences about immigration, which is unlikely to be their main concern if they can't keep a job, feed their families, or ensure their children's futures.

In short, it's still about the economy, stupid.