by Juhem Navarro-Rivera
President Obama had two main objectives in last night’s Univision Townhall: regain the trust of Latino voters everywhere after the DREAM Act debacle in last year’s lame-duck session when Senate Democrats failed to kill a Republican filibuster and show that Latinos, a significant part of his 2008 coalition, are high in his list of priorities.
Overall, the President did a good job. The quality and content of his answers depends on what the viewer/listener expected. Mine were low since he now has a Republican House majority and a smaller Democratic Senate majority. People expecting a proactive President were likely disappointed. The President did exceed my low expectations.
He was asked questions ranging from parenting tips, testing, education costs, and immigration. The President was cautious when answering, a sign that he’s now in governing mode. His campaign rhetoric is long gone. I will focus on his answers to three important policy questions.
Someone asked “with an executive order, could you be able to stop deportations of the students?” This question goes through the heart of the DREAM Act and what unilateral actions can the President take. The President claimed in a previous response that deportations of students are down through changes in implementation priorities. He answered that he is constrained by the Constitutional separation of powers and he cannot, by himself, derogate laws already in the books.
In another question, about the DREAM Act and how to keep the young people who worked so hard to pass it from being disillusioned with the political system, the President uttered the most ironic phrase of the night: “I think that change in this country sometimes happens in fits and starts. It doesn’t happen overnight.” While it is true that change doesn’t happen overnight in America, asking people to “tone it down” after fueling their expectations is hypocritical. I think this was an excellent time to come back to Earth and admit that campaigning and governing are very different things and that change requires more than Executive action.
Finally, President Obama was asked about education funding. He was right to say that most of the education funding is allocated at the state and local levels and that the Federal government is doing what it can: Pell Grants and student loans. He also stressed the need for HeadStart funding.
The overarching theme in the President’s answers was the importance of community. He tried to balance what he can realistically achieve and what people can achieve without government intervention (parental involvement). He was cautious this time in overselling his ideas. I think he was right in doing so.
In the end what matters is whether Latinos bought his message. Can he count on us again? I don’t think the DREAM Act is a possibility in this term but this townhall was a good re-start. He can still do things at the margins (appointments, executive orders) to remind Latinos we’re on his mind. It is also our job to keep the pressure on him. He’s aware that Latinos are a significant part of the future of America.
To learn more about Juhem Navarro-Rivera, visit The LatiNone.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are solely those
of the author and should not be understood to be shared by Being Latino, Inc.