One speech begets another.

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Obama Gave a Bad Speech. Let It Go.

Megan McArdle is a Bloomberg View columnist. She wrote for the Daily Beast, Newsweek, the Atlantic and the Economist and founded the blog Asymmetrical Information. She is the author of "“The Up Side of Down: Why Failing Well Is the Key to Success.”
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I'm not a huge fan of Barack Obama's decision to go the executive, rather than legislative, route on immigration reform. And I was definitely not a huge fan of last night's speech, which seemed almost deliberately unconvincing.  But there we are; they happened.  So what should Republicans do about it?

In my opinion, "As little as possible." As I understand the scope of his actions, he's offering a three-year work permit and protection from deportation to about 4 million people. As these things go, it's not too hard to undo. If you think we need to take a harder line on illegal immigration, then the proper response is to work your butts off to take the White House in 2016 and keep your Senate majority. Pass a new immigration law that sharply limits presidential discretion on deportations. Forget e-verify, which offers all the fun of an Obamacare exchange launch, except with higher unemployment, and do something a bit simpler: Quintuple the budget of the passport office, and require all new employees without valid U.S. passports or green cards to have their citizenship checked through that office, employment to remain probationary pending confirmation of the right to work in this country. Fence more of the border and beef up the number of agents patrolling it.

Alternatively, pass the existing Senate bill with one small amendment: double the border patrol and specify that the measures to regularize the status of illegals in the country don't take effect until border apprehensions have dropped below 50,000, or some other number you like, for three years running.

I'm not saying that I support either of these bills; I don't. But if that is what Republicans want, then they should use the legislature to pass them. Things they can do if they feel like it, and in fact have already done: File a completely pointless lawsuit as a symbolic gesture. Things they should not do: Impeach Obama or shut down the government.

I understand that these last are completely within the legal power of legislators. Well, what Obama did last night was also within his legal power. It is not enough to say that you have the legal right to do something. I have the legal right to cuss out my neighbors and compare them to any number of horrific dictators plucked from the annals of human history.  You have the legal right to tell your spouse that she really does look fat in those jeans.  Standing on these legal rights, however, would be most unwise.

Shutting down the government just escalates the partisan tit-for-tat that is making it nearly impossible to get anything done in Washington--including actually trimming back the size of the state, rather than just playing havoc with federal worker vacation schedules, and delaying a few payments by a few weeks. It makes voters mad at Republicans. It takes the focus off the president's action, and puts it on the Republicans who are shutting down the government again. This achieves nothing, while risking the Republican Party's actual best chance at getting the immigration policy it wants: taking the White House in 2016.

Impeachment is even worse. The last time it was tried--for offenses that were actually illegal, if not quite impeachment-level violations--was an absolute disaster. The Republicans succeeded only in reviving the popularity of the president they'd attacked, while making themselves look bad. And if that's not enough, I have three words for you: President Joe Biden.

At this very moment, someone is preparing to explain to me that most of these things are only true because the left-wing MSM is so darn unfair to the Republican side. Assume, arguendo, that you are right. Now let me ask you a question: So what?

If the left-wing MSM is indeed biased against you, then your strategy needs to take that into account. Do you have a plan for compelling the left-wing MSM to treat you fairly? If not, then you should not settle upon a course of action that would work, if only this fact were not true. You don't launch your cavalry regiment against a Panzer battalion on the grounds that you could beat the Germans if only they didn't have all those darned tanks.

If Republicans want lasting legislative victories, rather than moral satisfaction, they are going to have to learn to pick their battles. And this is one they should give a pass.

  1. I have lovely neighbors and no urge at all to say mean things to them.  I provide this merely by way of an illustrative hypothetical.

  2.  If you need to be told not to say this, you are too young to be married.

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of Bloomberg View's editorial board or Bloomberg LP, its owners and investors.

To contact the author on this story:
Megan McArdle at mmcardle3@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor on this story:
James Gibney at jgibney5@bloomberg.net