John Derbyshire On SOTU Signals: Is Obama's Immigration Enthusiasm Waning?
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In We Are Doomed I referred to the State of the Union address as a “Stalinesque extravaganza.”

You know how it goes.    We’re shown the House chamber, where the nation’s highest civilian and military officials wait in gathering expectation.  The Sergeant at Arms announces the President’s arrival.  The great man appears at last.  In his progress through the chamber, legislators jostle and maneuver to catch his eye and receive the favor of a presidential greeting. 

On the podium at last, the President offers up preposterously grandiose assurances of protection, provision, and moral guidance from his government, these declarations of benevolent omnipotence punctuated by standing ovations and cheers from legislators of his own party, and often from the others too, after every declarative clause. 

Things haven’t improved any in the four years since I wrote that.  Every year grows stronger my yearning for a return to the modest style that prevailed through most of the Republic’s history, of the President delivering a written report to Congress on the State of the Union.  Vain hope, of course:  the politicians of this age don’t do modest.

Well, well, what did the President have to tell us about the State of our Union?  On the topic that most concerns readers of, next to nothing: there was less than 2½ minutes on immigration in a one-hour speech, and this came at well past the halfway mark, when many viewers will have given up.


“Our economy is stronger when we harness the talents and ingenuity of striving, hopeful immigrants [applause]; and right now, leaders of business, labor, law enforcement, faith communities, they all agree that the time has come to pass comprehensive immigration reform [prolonged applause].”

Mostly true.  Business leaders have no problem with private-sector labor markets being flooded to bring down wages.  “Labor” nowadays means public-sector employees, to whom immigrants are clients, i.e. bread and butter. “Faith communities,” formerly known as churches, are in the nation-wrecking van of immigration romanticism and refugee resettlement, to the disgust of many patriotic congregants.

“Law enforcement” needs some qualification, however, with one leader in that field testifying to Congress recently that his officers are disciplined for arresting illegal immigrants.

In confirmation of that testimony, there were illegal immigrants sitting right there in the House chamber as the President spoke, brought in as guests of congressmen.  Why did not the Capitol police arrest them?

So perhaps not quite all leaders agree.  And what about followers?  Oh, the heck with them! 

What exactly is comprehensive immigration reform, though?  Let the President tell us:

“Real reform means stronger border security, and we can build on the progress my administration’s already made, putting more boots on the southern border than at any time in our history . . .”

There flashed upon my inward eye at that point a stretch of southern border desert country with thousands of empty boots laid out on it in a line stretching all the to the horizon.  Perhaps that’s what the President has in mind, who knows?

“ . . . and reducing illegal crossings to their lowest levels in forty years . . .”

Really?  Great!  So we can reassign Border Patrol agents to internal enforcement, right, Mr. President?  Mr. President?  Hello?

“ . . . a responsible pathway to earned citizenship, a path that includes passing a background check, paying taxes and a meaningful penalty, learning English, and going to the back of the line behind folks trying to come here legally [applause].”

That would presumably be the line that is, for some categories of legal immigrants, nineteen years long.

“And real reform means fixing the legal immigration system . . .”

Whoa!  A politician talking about fixing legal immigration! Fixing which aspect?  Chain migration?  The diversity lottery?  Birthright citizenshipSo much needs fixing!

“ . . . to cut waiting periods and attract the highly skilled entrepreneurs and engineers that will help create jobs and grow our economy [prolonged applause].”

Oh.  I guess there are not, among us 310 million American citizens, enough with engineering skills and entrepreneurial zip to keep the show going.  What a sad lot we are, we Americans!

“In other words, we know what needs to be done . . .”  Yes, yes, we all know!  There is no disagreement! [Applause. Standing applause.  All stand. Standing ovation.]

That was it.  On what the President had formerly declared would be one of the foremost initiatives of his administration, only a handful of weary clichés and semi-truths slipped in between “schools worthy of our children” and a promise to raise the minimum wage.

For some listeners, they weren’t even the right clichés.  From that USA Today report on invited illegals, these particular ones in a House committee room, not the chamber:

Eric Rodriguez, 30, the son of illegal immigrants who became citizens after the last large-scale immigration law passed in 1986, said he was disturbed that Obama only singled out immigrants with high-tech degrees. “By him focusing on highly skilled immigrants, you completely disregard this whole room,” said Rodriguez, who runs the Latino Union of Chicago, which organizes domestic workers and day laborers.[Some attending Obama speech are in the U.S. illegally, By Alan Gomez, February 13, 2013]

Because, you know, what the U.S.A. really needs is more domestic workers and day laborers.

Would it be wildly optimistic to read into the President’s cursory treatment of immigration some sign of his backing off the subject?  Obama is too skillful a politician to yoke himself to a hopeless cause.  Is he having doubts?  Are the congressional switchboards lighting up already?  One can only hope.

The rest of the speech was hot air.  If there is any purpose to the President addressing Congress in person, it would be to expose points of failure in areas where the legislature and executive are supposed to co-operate.  Current examples would include the Senate’s disgraceful failure to pass a national budget in four years, and the Office of Refugee Resettlement’s delinquency, also now four years long, in not submitting annual reports to Congress as required by law.

There was nothing of that, only self-congratulatory gas about having “cleared away the rubble of crisis” and promises to eradicate world poverty, as if that were possible, or any of our business.

Marco Rubio, in the official GOP response to Obama, also skipped lightly over immigration.

“We can also help grow our economy if we have a legal immigration system that allows us to attract and assimilate the world’s best and brightest.  We need a responsible permanent solution to the problem of those who are here illegally.  But first we must follow through on the broken promises of the past, to secure our borders and enforce our laws.”

That was it:  21 seconds in a 15-minute speech, with a leaning to enforcement and border security.  Possibly Rubio was saving his immigration enthusiasm for the Spanish-language version of his response. has Alan Wall listening to that, so you will be told.[ note: Allan Wall said that Rubio said the same thing in English and Spanish, which is better than George Bush’s official translators could do in 2004.]

There was a second response from Senator Rand Paul on behalf of the Tea Party movement.  On immigration, Paul was easily the most depressing of the three speakers.

“We must be the party that sees immigrants as assets.”

Well, that’s a tad better than seeing them as voting-booth fodder (Obama) or cheap labor (Conservatism, Inc.)  But:

“If you want to work, if you want to be in America, we welcome you.”

All five billion of you, presumably.  I refer Senator Paul to my “Libertarianism in One Country” column, though without much hope:  I concluded some time ago that libertarians are, on the National Question, radically hope-less.

Thus another annual Stalinesque extravaganza fades into the mist.  Did I really see Janet Napolitano kiss Elena Kagan?  Perhaps I imagined it.  Did I really hear Barack Obama call for “not a bigger government but a smarter government”?  Yes, that one I have in my notes.  But then, some years ago at a different President’s SOTU, I heard that “the era of big government is over.”

If only the era of spoken SOTUs would be over and the era of written ones—Jefferson to Taft—restored.  

John Derbyshire [email him] writes an incredible amount on all sorts of subjects for all kinds of outlets. (This no longer includes National Review, whose editors had some kind of tantrum and fired him. He is the author of We Are Doomed: Reclaiming Conservative Pessimism and several other books. His writings are archived at

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