Richard Lugar Abandons The DREAM Act And Illustrates Why America Can’t Have Nice Things

Senator Richard Lugar of Indiana says he doesn’t support the DREAM Act. Lots of politicians don’t support the DREAM Act, but what’s a bit surprising here is his reasoning. As recently as the 111th Congress he thought the DREAM Act was a good idea. And here in the 112th Congress he doesn’t say that he’s changed his mind on the issue. Instead, he says he’s now unwilling to vote for the DREAM Act out of spite for Barack Obama:

Lugar’s spokesman said Lugar did not join Democrats in reintroducing the federal legislation to help children of illegal immigrants – known as the DREAM Act, or Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors – because Democrats have politicized the issue.

“President Obama’s appearance in Texas yesterday framed immigration as a divisive election issue instead of attempting a legitimate debate on comprehensive reform,” said spokesman Mark Helmke. “Ridiculing Republicans was clearly a partisan push that effectively stops a productive discussion about comprehensive immigration reform and the DREAM Act before the 2012 election.”

Adam Serwer calls this “taking the Graham way out”, which it is. But it also suggests the paradoxical nature of presidential “leadership” in a polarized political environment. Bipartisan legislative initiatives are useful to congressional Republicans basically only if the President opposes them. Something like the ridiculous McCaskill-Corker CAP Act is great precisely because it’s a totally terrible idea. Barack Obama can be counted on to resist it, so criticizing him for opposition to this bipartisan measure makes sense. By contrast, if Obama wants to turn himself into a zealous advocate of a bipartisan bill like the DREAM Act, then that renders it toxic. And since the direct beneficiaries of the DREAM Act are ineligible to vote and don’t have much campaign cash to offer, that becomes all you need to know.

I’m not one to scold politicians for playing politics. That’s life. But we have a set of political institutions right now that that make it very difficult for politics-playing politicians to actually address any important problems of national significance.