For What Its Worth on Immigration

Reprinted from

“Compromise,” as others have said before, “is not a four-letter word.” In a January 2014 column in The New York Times, Tom Friedman quoted former U.S. Senator Alan Simpson as having said: “If you can’t learn to compromise on issues without compromising yourself, you should not be in Congress, be in business or get married.”

Note: Sen. Simpson did not warn against being a columnist, being a radio host, or being a panelist on a cable TV program.
I have been trying to get my arms around immigration for years. Every time I believe I have found a reasonable path, something – or someone – puts an intellectual boulder in my way and I have to sit down on a log and rethink the whole thing.

I have no idea whether what the President has proposed to do by Executive Order on immigration is Constitutional. Everyone who is a Constitutional scholar, please raise hands. Put yours down, Mr. Obama.

I don’t think the President knows whether it’s legal, either, but there is no question that he is more interested in making certain that history does not place the blame for the electoral catastrophe that washed over the Democratic party on November 4 on his drooping political shoulders than worrying over that pesky Constitution.

If he truly believed there was a pressing time issue attached to immigration reform, he would have done it months ago. As USA Today put it: “The immigration speech President Obama gave a week before Thanksgiving was the one he was supposed to give before Labor Day.”

On the other hand, House Republicans have not exactly stepped up to the plate on voting for an immigration plan to which the adjective “comprehensive” could reasonably be attached.

Speaker John Boehner (R-Oh) tried to bring a bill to the floor this past January, but found the Cruzettes on his right were unwilling to bend on the issue of what to do about our porous border.

According to the U.S. Customs and Border Protection webpage: The United States has 5,525 miles of border with Canada and 1,989 miles with Mexico. Our maritime border includes 95,000 miles of shoreline.

Guaranteeing the 102,514 mile perimeter of the United States will be totally sealed is impossible, so some level of permeability has to be deemed acceptable.

But, that would be seen as compromising.

The Huffington Post reported that Boehner’s approach stated that “undocumented immigrants wouldn’t receive a ‘special path to citizenship,’ but ‘could live legally and without fear in the U.S., but only if they were willing to admit their culpability, pass rigorous background checks, pay significant fines and back taxes, develop proficiency in English and American civics, and be able to support themselves and their families (without access to public benefits)’.”

Which seems to be (a) reasonable and (b) not that far from what the President announced.
But, with his heavy-handed (and utterly defensive) move last week, Obama has forced Boehner and his allies in the House along with Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky) and the incoming Republican majority in the Senate into a position that makes compromise – much less agreement – impossible.

In 1967 a then-unknown club house band known as “Buffalo Springfield” recorded a song named “For What it’s Worth,” which began:

“There’s something happening here,
What it is, ain’t exactly clear …”

It was not an anti-Vietnam war song, nor was it an anthem against what happened at Kent State (which was three years later). It was a song protesting a local 10 PM curfew in the neighborhood where the club was located.

The song describes a stand-off between the kids who wanted to be able to go to and from a club along Sunset Strip in LA at night and the authorities who were charged with enforcing the curfew.

It was written by band-member Stephen Stills, who later joined with co-Buffalo Springfield member David Crosby to form Crosby, Stills, and Nash; later Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, and; later still, Crosby, Stills, Nash, Young, Merrill, Lynch, Pierce, Fenner & Smith (and sometimes Y).

The line in that song that bears on our discussion is: “Nobody’s right if everybody’s wrong.”
Which is a pretty accurate description of life in Washington, DC today, nearly a half-century on.

Editor’s Note: Rich Galen is former communications director for House Speaker Newt Gingrich and Senator Dan Quayle. In 2003-2004, he did a six-month tour of duty in Iraq at the request of the White House engaging in public affairs with the Department of Defense. He also served as executive director of GOPAC and served in the private sector with Electronic Data Systems. Rich is a frequent lecturer and appears often as a political expert on ABC, CNN, Fox and other news outlets.