Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Telling the Truth as a Joke

There were some good laughs in President Obama's stand-up routine the other night, but the most interesting part was when he seemed to reveal his true feelings about some big issues:
After the midterm elections, my advisors asked me, "Mr. President, do you have a bucket list?" And I said, "Well, I have something that rhymes with bucket list.’" (Laughter and applause.)

Take executive action on immigration? Bucket. (Laughter.) New climate regulations? Bucket. It’s the right thing to do. (Laughter and applause.)
Ezra Klein explains:
The tip-off there is, "It's the right thing to do." That's not a joke. That's Obama's actual justification for the aggressive executive actions of his second term — "fuck it, it's the right thing to do." But the norms of politics are such that he typically has to frame his actions as routine, dull, even necessary. He has to search for precedent and downplay the consequences.

It's only on the evening of the White House Correspondents' Dinner when he can say what everyone already knows: his actions are huge, they are controversial, they push the norms of American politics, but fuck it, at a moment when American politics seems increasingly broken, Obama has decided to just go ahead and do what he thinks is right.
Partisan though I am, I see the danger in this; I don't especially want to see President Ted Cruz issuing lots of radical executive orders. But so far as I can tell, this is the only way action is going to happen on two issues that I think are crucial for America: shifting away from fossil fuels and somehow resolving the situation of hundreds of thousands of young people who have grown up in America but cannot get legal status. A Congress that cannot even bring the Dream Act to a vote is pretty much asking to be bypassed by the president.

Our system is designed to keep things from happening. When something really needs to happen that is opposed by powerful interests, the system crashes. Executive action is one of the few solutions on offer, and I respect Obama for doing all he can to make these changes real.

1 comment:

David said...

The problem with this, of course, is that conservatives also think the things they want are "the right thing." The language is symptomatic of a moralization of American politics that is in fact a major reason why it is so difficult to get anything done. Too much principle means no compromise, and too many Congressmen, especially on the right, think they are being towers of virtue when they refuse to trade a vote on the Dream Act for a new bridge in their district.