What was missing in the president’s approach the other night was the expression, or suggestion, of context. The context was a crisis that had gone unanswered as it has built, the perceived detachment of the political elite from people on the ground, and a new distance between the president and his traditional supporters. The president would have done well to signal that he knew he was coming late to the party, as it were; that he’d come to rethink his previous stand, or lack of a stand, and had begun to consider whether there was not some justice in the views, and alarm, of others.
Without an established context the speech seemed free-floating: a statement issued into the ether, unanchored to any particular principle and eager to use, as opposed to appreciate, whatever human sentiment flows around the issue of immigration. It was a speech driven by an air of crisis, but not a public crisis, only a personal and political one.
To acknowledge what he apparently thinks are the biases of the base, he used loaded words like “sneak”—illegal immigrants “sneak across the border”—as if to establish his populist bona fides. This was, not to put too fancy a rhetorical term on it, creepy, and managed to be offensive to everyone.
What was needed was a definitive statement: As of this moment we will control our borders, I’m sending in the men, I’m giving this the attention I’ve given to the Mideast.
Once that is done, all else follows. “Comprehensive solution” seems like code for “some day we may do something”. No one believes in comprehensive solutions. They believe in action they can see. No one believes in the wisdom of government, but they do believe it has a certain brute power.
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The disinterest in the White House and among congressional Republicans in establishing authority on America’s borders is so amazing—the people want it, the age of terror demands it—that great histories will be written about it. Thinking about this has left me contemplating a question that admittedly seems farfetched: Is it possible our flinty president is so committed to protecting the Republican Party from losing, forever, the Hispanic vote, that he’s decided to take a blurred and unsatisfying stand on immigration, and sacrifice all personal popularity, in order to keep the party of the future electorally competitive with a growing ethnic group?
This would, I admit, be rather unlike an American political professional. And it speaks of a long-term thinking that has not been the hallmark of this administration. But at least it would render explicable the president’s moves.
The other possibility is that the administration’s slow and ambivalent action is the result of being lost in some geopolitical-globalist abstract-athon that has left them puffed with the rightness of their superior knowledge, sure in their membership in a higher brotherhood, and looking down on the low concerns of normal Americans living in America.
I continue to believe the administration’s problem is not that the base lately doesn’t like it, but that the White House has decided it actually doesn’t like the base. That’s a worse problem. It’s hard to fire a base. Hard to get a new one.
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Speaking of the detachment of the elites, the second big news of the week—in some ways it may be bigger—is the apparent critical failure of “The DaVinci Code.” After its first screening in Cannes, critics and observers called it tedious, painfully long, bloated, grim, so-so, a jumble, lifeless and talky.
There is a God. Or, as a sophisticated Christian pointed out yesterday, there is an Evil One, and this may be proof he was an uncredited co-producer. The devil loves the common, the stale. He can’t use beauty; it undermines him. “Banality is his calling card.”
I do not understand the thinking of a studio that would make, for the amusement of a nation 85% to 90% of whose people identify themselves as Christian, a major movie aimed at attacking the central tenets of that faith, and insulting as poor fools its gulled adherents. Why would Tom Hanks lend his prestige to such a film? Why would Ron Howard? They’re both already rich and relevant. A desire to seem fresh and in the middle of a big national conversation? But they don’t seem young, they seem immature and destructive. And ungracious. They’ve been given so much by their country and era, such rich rewards and adulation throughout their long careers. This was no way to say thanks.
I don’t really understand why we live in an age in which we feel compelled to spoof the beliefs of the followers of the great religions. Why are we doing that? Why does Hollywood consider this progressive as opposed to primitive, like a pre-Columbian tribe attacking the tribe next door for worshiping the wrong spirits?
“The DaVinci Code” could still triumph at the box office, but it has lost its cachet, and the air of expectation that surrounded it. Its creators have not been rewarded but embarrassed. Good. They should be.