The Wages of Bitterness

John McCain used to be for ambitious immigration reform legislation. Naturally, that meant he was also for the DREAM Act, a much more modest measure aimed at protecting the interests of hard-working people who violated immigration laws as children due to actions taken by the parents. Elise Foley fills us in on McCain’s current thinking:

A few days before the Senate left for the Thanksgiving break, Pacheco met the new McCain when she tried to lobby him on the DREAM Act, the bill he’d once championed. When Pacheco approached McCain, she said, he dismissed her and threatened to call the Capitol Police on her if she continued to follow him.

As he entered an elevator, the DREAM Act supporters told the senator that all they want is to serve their country.

“Go serve them then,” McCain told them, according to Pacheco.

I don’t really even understand what McCain’s trying to say here, but it reminds me of something I said at USC when I was out there last week. Namely that one of the odd conceits of Capitol Hill is that when something like the DREAM Act fails that’s a “defeat for Democrats” or a “defeat for Barack Obama.” By this logic if McCain is bitter at Barack Obama because Obama said mean things about him in the 2008 campaign and won, it makes sense for him to lash out at Obama by taking stances on legislation that lead to defeats for Barack Obama.

The fact of the matter, however, is that Barack Obama is going to be fine. At worst, a president fails to get re-elected. But in the scheme of things, Jimmy Carter and George HW Bush have great lives. These high-level politicians are basically untouchable. All that’s at steak for them personally is questions of ego. The people who really lose in a serious way if DREAM doesn’t pass are undocumented teenagers. These people didn’t do anything to John McCain. He has no reason to be bitter at them. But they, not Barack Obama, not “the Democrats” are the ones who actually have something really big on the line.