Valerie Jarrett, a senior adviser to Barack Obama and a longtime confidant of the president, told reporters at breakfast the other day that there is an opportunity this summer for meaningful immigration reform.
Now that the primary season is over, she said, there is a rare chance the Republican-controlled House will adopt the compromise bill passed last year by the Senate, including the controversial path to citizenship for the more than 11 million immigrants in this country illegally. This will be supported, she said, by a new “groundswell” from around the country.
The astonishment in the room was palpable, but only one of those attending the Christian Science Monitor’s long-running early-morning sessions with newsmakers took the time to question her prediction. He politely pointed out that it is diametrically opposite of not only the conventional wisdom but also clear indication that opposition to comprehensively overhauling the system without first closing off the southern border to infiltration whatever it takes actually has been strengthened by the primaries.
That of course included foremost the defeat of Republican Majority Leader Eric Cantor of Virginia. Cantor’s loss to a tea party college professor was blamed partly on his efforts to advance immigration reform.
Furthermore, Jarrett’s opinion, which she said is shared by the president, seemed to ignore the fact that if the GOP House majority survives the coming fall elections, which it is expected to do, there may be little chance of dealing with immigration until after the 2016 presidential campaign, if then. That would be a certainty, once again the conventional wisdom asserts, if the Republicans should also gain control of the Senate, not an unreasonable forecast.
All this once again strengthened the validity of a long-held belief that something strange occurs to those who enter the gates of 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. and remain for extended periods. Call it a loss of reality, if you wish, but mainly it is the penchant to always put the best spin possible on whatever the supreme leader in the Oval Office deems is necessary for the good of the country, even if it requires suspending or sublimating what one instinctively knows is the truth of the matter.
This affliction seems to manifest itself the closer one gets to the West Wing’s source of all power. Loyalty becomes an overriding characteristic to almost everything, and the longer one stays the more it pertains.
I came to believe that Condoleezza Rice would have stuck her head in a meat grinder had George W. Bush asked her to do so. In fact that is pretty much what happened in her years both in the White House and the State Department.
One need only study the history of the presidency to find that sort of all-consuming dedication. Franklin Roosevelt’s coterie of women attendants, for instance, including a wife who had long given up on expecting fidelity either as a spouse or in her own beliefs was legendary. John F. Kennedy’s staff not only was loyal to him and his family but infamously never received much in return politically or otherwise. “Servant” was a word the Kennedy’s knew well.
Those at the breakfast — all veteran journalists — were well versed about the difficulties of solving the gigantic immigration policy in the near future.
While they seemed willing to accept that Jarrett was voicing hopes rather than legitimate prospects and kept the questioning civil, it seemed to me at least that she would have been served better by a more realistic assessment of the situation.
In other words, a prediction couched in such words as “tough” or “it would be our hope” or something far less assured would have served her better. Perhaps the bosses of Chicago where she emerged as a competent and dedicated public servant could say this or that will happen with a degree of certainty backed up by a machine. But this is a berg where few things are a sure bet and clearly not in the antagonistic atmosphere of today’s politics.
During the 50 years I have been here, I have been engulfed by the smoke being blown from Capitol Hill to the White House too often not to recognize its toxicity. Jarrett’s prediction may be understandable given her loyalty to the president that verges on idolatry, but putting any money on it would be a mistake.
Dan Thomasson is an op-ed columnist for McClatchy-Tribune and a former vice president of Scripps Howard Newspapers. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.