HARRY S TRUMAN played 7-Card Stud with the press corps while deciding whether to drop the first atomic bomb on Japan. Richard Nixon reportedly used his wartime Navy winnings to help finance his first congressional race in California. Lyndon B. Johnson boasted of using poker to forge political alliances.
Poker used to be a traditional staple of the White House, and now Barack Obama will show us whether he’s the top-notch poker player that friends said he was when he ran for president four years ago.
For his decision to stop the deportation of illegal immigrant youth, as he announced he would Friday, is nothing if not a poker gamble, betting it all that the immigration issue can save a re-election campaign that has been teetering dangerously, with November just five months away. The aces in his hand would be the Hispanic vote.
June has been a horrible month for the President.
The economy continues to tank. Job growth has stalled. People are laughing at Obama for saying the “private sector is doing fine.” Democrats were humiliated in Wisconsin. Obama is losing the fund-raising war to Mitt Romney. Bill Clinton is contradicting Obama on the campaign trail. The president’s attorney general is under attack.
And more bad news is expected when the Supreme Court rules on Obamacare and immigration beginning as early as next week. And, of course, all those national-security leaks from his administration are starting to sound like something out of the Nixon White House.
Then there is Marco Rubio, the Florida junior senator who has become the talk of the political world as Romney searches for a running mate.
Will he or won’t he? At this point, it doesn’t matter. Romney has gotten tons of publicity among Hispanic voters while Obama’s record on Hispanics has been more closely scrutinized.
Rubio’s name recognition has skyrocketed. Even if he’s not on the ticket — and he likely won’t be — Rubio is now a nationally known figure who will have a big following when he campaigns for Romney in those critical swing states like Colorado, Nevada and Florida.
You sense that Obama, who has been roundly criticized by immigrant-rights advocates for deporting more than a million undocumented immigrants — far more than any previous modern administration — was reacting in part to Rubio and his DREAM Act alternative.
Or else, why would what Obama announced Friday sound so much like what Rubio’s planoffers: Allowing illegal immigrant youth to remain in the U.S. and get their schooling while stopping short of citizenship?
That is the irony of this move by the Obama administration — that it more closely resembles Rubio’s DREAM Act alternative, not the Democratic one.
Obama carried the Latino vote by landslide proportions in 2008, and polls indicate he is leading Romney among Hispanics by better than a 2-to-1 margin. So why this move? Why now?
The President could have taken this step months ago, much earlier in his presidency when it wouldn’t have looked so blatantly political and when he could have saved the heartbreak and disruption of a million lives.
What the administration announced Friday was little more than a compromise on the originalDREAM Act, and it’s hard to believe that a White House that knows how to sell out to Hollywood and celebrity doesn’t have the common sense to bend on legislation that affects people without the means to contribute millions to a campaign.
If would be comforting to know that Obama has not played poker here and instead has done this for a much nobler reason. But this is the second time within weeks that the President has shifted positions on a tough issue.
Just weeks ago it was a turnaround on gay marriage. But both these political pirouettes come in an election year when these kinds of moves are always suspect to the least noble of motives.
There has to be more, and the country’s Hispanic leadership should put Obama on notice of such. That the way he reacts in the future to the Hispanic and other minorities and their demands for equality will define for decades what kind of President he really is.
How he deals with Latino America, and therefore with the future of this new America, will show him to be either the president seen by his detractors — elitist and egotistical — or the president seen by his defenders — politically troubled but still holding on to his original moral purpose and promise.
It may be the Latino’s role not only to struggle for our rightful share of America, but also toremind Obama and the country of their own sense of conscience and destiny.