President Obama gave what was billed as an important speech on immigration last week near the border in El Paso, Texas. Unfortunately, it was one of the most demagogic moments in recent presidential history. Nearly everything Obama said was either factually incorrect or deliberately misleading.
Why, 28 months into the Obama presidency, is there now a sudden push to pass "comprehensive" immigration reform? After all, from 2009 to early 2011, Obama had large Democratic majorities in both the House and Senate. Why hasn't Obama already rammed through his own immigration bill, as he did with health care?
The answer, of course, is that about 70 percent of the American people consistently poll against the president's initiatives on illegal immigration. Obama simply did not want to sign an easily passable bill that would earn him further unpopularity.
But now he has lost the House. A close re-election bid looms. The president is enjoying a sudden bounce in popularity after the capture of Osama bin Laden. He needs to firm up his base of Latino supporters. Presto: time to blame Republicans for his own past unwillingness to get a bill through his Democratic Congress.
Obama's demagoguery seemed to work on the crowd in El Paso. It interrupted the president's speech to answer, "Tear it down," when he mentioned the border fence. The audience booed, and jeered on cue, "They're racist," when he went after Republicans. And it joined Obama, the sudden cheerleader in chief, in chanting, "Yes, we can."
In blaming Republicans, Obama charged that their fears about open borders were groundless since, "The fence is now basically complete." And to emphasize that claim, he mocked his opponents by saying, "Maybe they'll need a moat. Maybe they'll need alligators in the moat."
That sounds cute. But it is again quite untrue. The fence is most assuredly not "basically" complete. Currently, fewer than 700 miles of the more than 1,900-mile border have any sort of barrier. And less than 5 percent of the border has a secure double-fenced impediment. Even with increased patrols, a recent Government Accountability Office study found that 40 percent of the border is essentially open and unguarded. There are still well over a half-million illegal border crossings per year.
In a fit of projection, the president also accused his opponents of politicking the issue for partisan advantage: "We've seen a lot of blame and a lot of politics and a lot of ugly rhetoric around immigration."
That too was a distortion for at least two reasons. One, during the 2010 midterm election, the president himself urged Latinos to "punish" their political "enemies." That advice sure seemed like "ugly rhetoric."