Elections are good for politicians. The need for public approval can get them out of the elite bubble and remind them of their better inclinations. This works especially well when polling says their instincts carry more than 50 percent approval, but hey, it works.
That's my read on President Obama's executive order protecting some 800,000 young people from deportation for the crime of having undocumented parents. The DREAMers were brought to this country as children, raised here, educated here, grew to adulthood as part of the "we" that is "us"-- but were never able to be secure in their country, to work and to study legally.
Obama has always sought (if not very vigorously) a legislative resolution of the conundrum created by millions of people who live and work here without legal status. For decades, employers enjoyed their cheap, exploitable labor; they lived in the shadows without citizenship. Obama's immigration cops have deported over a million people during this administration, demonstrating "toughness" without, as usual, molifying the haters. Meanwhile Congress (mostly the Republicans) refused to pass a comprehensive immigration reform that would provide a legal route to citizenship for those the country attracted and exploited. As Nancy Pelosi tweeted yesterday: "Democratic-led House passed DREAM in 2010. GOP still obstructing."
This executive order not to throw out the successful children of mass immigration for two years is no solution, but it is a start. It's practical: we'd be simply crazy to deport the DREAMers after bringing them up. Of course this country can be dumb sometimes.
I believe Latinos already knew which of two relative evils is a little better. Immigration issues are personal in immigrant communities: it's about tossing out Mother or seeing a nephew shipped to a country where he never lived. When people don't have much power and a lot of pain, they are often very sharp at smelling out the lesser evil and choosing it. But Obama's order certainly will help him turn out Latino voters.
But Obama did right yesterday. And a few weeks ago he did right also, sensing a tipping point on marriage equality and getting on the right side of history. Elections are good for politicians.
Photo is a detail from a San Francisco mural.