Our Katrina moment
By Jason Stanford
Before we move onto the next crisis, let’s get one thing straight about what’s happening on the Texas border. This is not Barack Obama’s Katrina moment.
This is everyone’s Katrina moment.
I do not relish criticizing Obama. I have defended him on Benghazi, the IRS, Snowden, and countless other contretemps and kerfluffles. And he’s right that if Congress had passed immigration reform years ago, we would not have 52,000 children from Central America in South Texas right now.
But right now, Barack is blowing it by not going to visit those children.
“There is nothing that is taking place down there that I am not intimately aware of and briefed on,” said Obama. “This isn’t theater, this is a problem. I’m not interested in photo-ops, I’m interested in solving the problem.”
He’s right up to a point, but boy howdy is he wrong about this not being theater. The President is our leading man, and by not going to the border to witness the situation first-hand he is missing an opportunity to lead. Instead, he believes that intellectual abstractions and political infighting suffice to carry the day. They don’t.
Ronald Reagan was “intimately aware and briefed on” the dangers of the Soviet Union, but what if he thought that giving a speech at the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin was an unnecessary photo op? You have to go to the Berlin Wall to properly tell Gorbachev to tear it down.
And for that matter, can you imagine Bill Clinton not going to visit those children? He would have hugged on those kids for hours and emerged glowing with sweaty happiness. He would have felt their pain, and we would have felt the love.
Because Obama intellectualizes this humanitarian crisis as a political conflict, we jump into our partisan trenches. Our heads fogged with conflict, we can’t see the huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of a teeming shore. These children are homeless, tempest-tossed to us on our very doorstep. Parents have sent their children to America to save their lives. These are not political abstractions.
If Obama is retreating into his cool, pragmatic comfort zone to process this, conservatives are coming out hot. Many Republican politicians are calling this an “invasion” and spreading groundless rumors that these children are carrying exotic, Central American diseases. Heckuva rebranding you’ve got there, Republicans.
To a man, Republican congressmen are blaming this crisis on Obama, conveniently forgetting that they’ve taken 54 votes to repeal Obamacare but not a single one to secure the border. They’re playing cheap and obvious politics, passing the buck instead of seizing the opportunity to solve the problem.
Most of the “Obama can’t lead” criticism unfairly blames him for Republican obstruction as if blaming the parent for a toddler’s tantrum.
But this is different. Obama is missing an opportunity to change the narrative. By standing at the border, he could help America understand the that when you’ve got a broken immigration system, you end up with a refugee crisis.
Instead, the press seems content to cover this like just another partisan slapfight, breathlessly reporting developments as if covering a middle school fight between frenemies. Will Obama meet with Perry? Will Perry shake Obama’s hand? What was Perry scowling at while Obama was laughing? Did Perry outsmart Obama to get the meeting on Marine One? Was Perry’s placement at the end of the table an insult?
And worst of all, when a congressman blames Obama for the crisis, I haven’t seen a single reporter respond, “Well, when are you going to vote on border security?” Where is Anderson Cooper when you need him?
Amid all this finger pointing, only Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins has raised his hand. Jenkins (a client of mine) did the right thing by inviting 2,000 so-called “border children” to Dallas County. It reminds us all why the name Texas comes from the Caddo Indian word “teyshas,” meaning “friends.”
We all know our immigration system is broken and our border needs to be secured, and we have 52,000 reasons to fix it right now. Sadly, our leaders are better at playing politics than making progress. That’s why this is our Katrina moment.
Jason Stanford is a regular contributor to the Austin American-Statesman and a Democratic consultant.