The imperatives of political pressure

Like LGBT activists, Latinos continously pressured Obama, and now have an important victory to show for it

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The imperatives of political pressure (Credit: AP/Ross D. Franklin)

(updated below)

Throughout the Obama presidency, one of the most vocal and demanding factions in the Democratic Party base has been activists for gay and lesbian equality. They repeatedly protested at Obama events and even at the White House, complained loudly about Obama’s broken promises, and even threatened to boycott Obama’s re-election campaign by withholding donations. In light of that ongoing confrontationalism, as well as the importance of gay voters (and especially gay donors) to the Democratic Party, it’s no surprise that their agenda has been repeatedly attended to by Obama, as he engineered the successful repeal of Don’t Ask/Don’t Tell, ordered his DOJ to stop defending the constitutionality of DOMA, and then finally “evolved” to an Election-Year endorsement of same-sex marriage.

Latino activists have been as confrontational and unwilling to fall into line as good, compliant partisan soldiers. They publicly protested Obama’s record number of deportation, complained about his immigration policies, loudly accused him of “betrayal,” and expressed subsstantial disapproval for him in polls. Thus, five months before the election, we have this today:



Hundreds of thousands of illegal immigrants who came to the United States as children will be able to obtain work permits and be safe from deportation under a new policy announced on Friday by the Obama administration. . . .

These qualifications resemble in some ways those of the so-called Dream Act, a measure blocked by Congress in 2010 that was geared to establish a path toward citizenship for certain young illegal immigrants. The administration’s action on Friday, which stops deportations but does not offer citizenship, is being undertaken by executive order and does not require legislation. It was announced by the Department of Homeland Security. . . .

President Obama was expected to discuss the new policy in the White House Rose Garden Friday afternoon. The plan is expected to be popular among immigrant citizens, especially Hispanics, a key voting bloc in the upcoming elections.

Like gay voters (and donors), Latinos are vital to the President’s re-election bid. Had they simply stayed quiet and cheered blindly for Obama and the Democrats, they would have had no leverage: politicians, rationally, will reflexively ignore those who pledge unconditional fealty to them. Because their devotion to the Obama re-election campaign was not unconditional — it was very much conditioned on having their political priorities attended to rather than ignored — they have now received a valuable and important (and plainly just) policy change.

This illustrates the proper relationship between citizens and public servants. Uncritical adoration and unconditional loyalty breed an arrogant, insular, unaccountable political class; as David Sirota argued when Obama “evolved” on marriage, those who reflexively defend Obama in the name of Election-Year political loyalty (or who demand that criticisms be stifled until the election) are the prime impediments to progress.

By contrast, demands, pressure, criticism, threats to withhold support, and confrontational tactics breed a healthy respect and even self-interested fear among political leaders, along with responsiveness. This is why I argued when Obama announced his “evolution” on marriage equality that motives are irrelevant. What matters is what politicians do, not why they do it. And the way to make them do what you want is to demand and pressure them using every possible tactic, not to sit back and cheer and hope they do it out of the goodness of their heart.

 

UPDATE: Just this week:

A group of undocumented immigrants has occupied President Barack Obama’s campaign office in downtown Oakland, refusing to leave until his administration stops deporting students.

“We’re going to stay here as long as we can,” said Luis Serrano, 24, speaking by cell phone Thursday evening from inside the Telegraph Avenue storefront where he and other students were staging a sit-in.

Serrano, three other illegal immigrant students and a supporter walked into the Obama for America office on Thursday afternoon pretending to be campaign volunteers.

“They said they were going to do some phone banking and donations,” said activist Krsna Avila of the National Immigrant Youth Alliance, which organized the protest.

Soon after arriving, however, the students plopped down, put graduation caps on their heads and informed local campaign workers they would not leave until Obama changed his deportation policy.

The more fear confrontational activism can put into the heart of the political class, the better.

Glenn Greenwald

Follow Glenn Greenwald on Twitter: @ggreenwald.

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