11/23/2014 07:28 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Bye Bye 'Bystander': Obama Goes on Offense with Immigration/ACA/Climate



By Mark Green

Vanden Heuvel and Lowry debate 'Bamnesty' and 'Obamacare'. Perhaps the best Left-Right framing of big reforms is FDR in 1936 comparing governments imperfectly reforming to status quo-ers kvetching from the sidelines. Or as Gypsies say, "Dogs bark but the caravan moves on."

*Immigration EO: Obama a Democrat or Autocrat? Isn't stopping the separation of children from their parents a good thing for immigrant families? Rich says that would be good once there is a deal in place that first takes care of the enforcement piece of immigration - border crossings and employer hiring - but not by a unilateral executive order. "You're not gonna be happy when President Cruz uses this precedent."

Katrina responds "18 months! It's been 18 months since the Senate passed a bipartisan, path-to-citizenship bill with 68 votes but Boehner won't allow a floor vote even though it would pass!" She lauds Obama for responding to grassroots lobbying and trying to fix a dysfunctional system since Tea Party types won't let the GOP do that. "If you want to enact a law," counters Rich, "then elect a new Speaker, which means electing a new Congress," which the Democrats failed to do in the recent election.

Host: Actually, Democrats carried a majority of the vote in the 2012 congressional races but didn't get to appoint a new Speaker because of gerrymandering. And there's now no floor vote because of the Hastert Rule (not law, but rule) by which GOP Speakers wait until there's a majority of the Caucus before going to the floor, a rule Hastert and Boehner sometimes violate though not in this case. So Boehner is flexing his power to stall or stop immigration reform... and Obama is using his with an Executive Order.

Katrina, could this be an inflection/legacy moment? Could Obama's almost 'Reaganesque' framing of stories involving children taken from deported parents move some moderate and even Republican voters? "It's moved the Conference of Catholic Bishops and, now that the president is not the 'deporter-in-chief' but the 'decider-in-chief', others will follow." Rich scoffs, distinguishing between Reagan's and the Bushes' executive orders based on enacted laws or congressional sentiment and Obama's. Katrina argues that shrieks about impeachment and shut-downs are ridiculous and that the "prosecutorial discretion" precedent underpinning Obama's EO will prevail in any court challenge, as it has already in the Roberts Court.

What about RNC's Reince Priebus saying that Republicans had to revaluate their position on immigration or risk losing more presidential elections? Katrina sounds the warning that a party offending a growing percentage of a rising electorate is looking for trouble. Rich thinks that "Priebus was wrong" because his party does and should oppose the Senate bill.

Host: We'll know precisely more in two years whether Obama's bet on the future by allowing more Hispanics to stay in the U.S. as united families has locked up a growing share of a growing electorate or not.

But at the least, the Krauthammers who have been belittling Obama for "leading from behind" and being a weak "bystander" should now cease and desist since that's completely at odds with their new meme that he's a "dictator" or "emperor." Fact is, Republicans attack Obama whether he's leading from the front or behind since their goal is to stymie his popularity no matter what. This Friday, a House Committee released its report that "Benghazi" was a tragedy, not a scandal. Has Fox, McCain, Issa etc. apologized for demonizing Obama and Rice? They have not, perhaps because it was never a serious charge but rather a political smear that served its purpose of distracting anxious voters.

So Benghazi ends up not as Obama's Watergate but his Whitewater... as, presumably, more current coordinated attacks on his "lawlessness" will prove to be. They too will evaporate in time after serving their purpose since they're hit-jobs and not about jobs.

*Is Obamacare Working? We ask Deanne Friedholm of Consumer's Union for a report on the law during this week's second enrollment period. She concludes that the 7 million who have signed up and paid up is pretty good... though it looks like it'll be somewhat less than what the CBO expected by the end of this enrollment. Happily, costs, premiums and deficits are slowing due to lowered Medicaid outlays. And what would she re-do in the law... assuming that were possible in the next Congress? "It would be to establish a baseline package for all plans so consumers could more easily compare premiums, deductibles, co-insurance and coverage."

Rich, do you agree that none of the hypothetical horribles of death panels, death spirals, job-lock, few enrollees and higher costs have materialized? He argues that the ACA is not working as well as advertised "because the $2 trillion cost over 10 years should ideally be covering more people. And many of the signups are to Medicaid which entails very poor quality coverage."

Katrina counters that if a GOP president had nationally implemented Romneycare in 2009, they'd be now jumping for joy. Sure the law is imperfect, "like how Social Security omitted migrants and many people of color" (i.e., domestic help), but that still was a great advance, as is the ACA.

Question: Doesn't this debate mirror FDR's 1936 convention address when he concluded that it's better to pursue change, warts and all, rather than remain complacent in icy indifference? Rich complains that at least his publication has been proposing a market-based alternative to health care that wouldn't be linked to employment (which happened in the late 1940s when conservatives attacked anything else as "socialized medicine.")

Will Obamacare be like marriage equality, which becomes more and more popular as friends, family, neighbors see real examples of who it's helping? Katrina: "Yes!" Rich: "No... though we've been hearing about this promised popularity from the beginning."

*Quick Takes: Consensus on 3 for 3. There's across-the-aisle agreement on Bill Cosby, The New Republic and Uber.

Katrina and Rich believe that, given the dozen or so women who have publicly come forward and Cosby's refusal to respond, it's pretty hard to believe they're all lying. And unlike due process in a legal proceeding, it's hard to blame an NBC or Netflix for canceling projects that rely on ratings and sponsors. They both welcome TNR's 100 birthday soiree because "the more successful opinion magazines are, the better for democracy."

As for Uber executives telling media moguls they were hiring investigators to expose media critics of this uber-valued startup, it was not a very smart PR move. "Since when is J. Edgar Hoover vindictiveness ok when done by the media?", asks Katrina. Rich agrees though the subject of public retaliation for private conduct is "murky."

Mark Green is the creator and host of Both Sides Now.

You can follow him on Twitter @markjgreen

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