On Thursday, President Obama spoke to members of the Austin community on everything from Congressional gridlock to his love of good ole’ Texas barbecue — even making a headline-garnering trip to Franklin’s. There was one thing, however, that he seemed a bit hesitant to address: the refugee crisis currently being faced by the state at the border.
Like any good politician, his speech played to his strengths: the latest job report for one as well as the recovering economy. He even chose a UT student, public relations junior Kinsey Button, to introduce him, constantly referring to “Kinsey’s struggle” to pay for college in an attempt to personalize his speech. These anecdotal tactics are certainly not the first to be utilized, nor are they ineffective by any means. Obama’s strengths lie largely in the fact that he is relatable: He truly is the “people’s president.”
“Each day,” the president stated in his Thursday speech at the Paramount Theatre, “I will keep asking the same question: how can I help you?” Sadly, Texas constituents may have come away from the speech with that question left largely unanswered as the president failed to discuss the humanitarian crisis, choosing instead to focus solely on party strengths.
To Obama’s credit, the speech was primarily disclosed as one to discuss the economy. And in this sector, things have been looking good: Fifty-two straight months of job growth, an unemployment rate that’s at its lowest since 2008. These numbers are encouraging, and the Austin community applauded each point with resounding support.
“We’re fighting for an agenda that creates more good jobs… in American manufacturing, in construction,” Obama said. “This country succeeds when everybody has got a shot.”
Indeed, the economy seems to be getting back on its feet, and as a Democratic president appealing to one of the most conservative states in the nation, Obama can’t be faulted for boasting his successes on this front.
But in the wake of national crisis, we must ask: Where is our president’s presence?
The immigration debate is not a simple issue, nor can it be divided on clear-cut ideological lines. But the latest numbers illustrate the immediacy with which this crisis must be attended to. In the past two years, illegal immigration rates have quadrupled. And in true American style, it is attended to largely through finger-pointing and fighting proposals. Republicans want more troops to secure the border, and have moved to increase the amount of National Guard security. Democrats cite the number of apprehended immigrants that lead to a “backup in the system,” proposing a $3.8 billion dollar authorization to address the problem. The parties do have one thing in common, however: Each side balks at the idea of supporting the other. “The House is not just going to rubber-stamp what the administration wants us to do,” said U.S. Representative Mario Diaz-Balart (R - FL).
Little can be accomplished in this stubborn partisan standoff, but neither party seems willing to stand down on the issue.
Prompted by criticism from the right, Obama hastily reconfigured a meeting with Perry during his Dallas trip. But a trip to the border was noticeably off the agenda. His trip seemed to be more fundraising, less functional. More support-focused, less substance. This is not uncommon for presidents, and to pretend these trips aren’t essential to the political process would be naïve. But to so ardently gloss over the administration’s failures seems to come across as a bit irresponsible, and it has not gone unnoticed by the Texas community.
“I think Obama’s obviously a great orator, and really enjoyed his speech,” says Danielle Johnson, speech attendee and self-proclaimed progressive Republican. “But it just makes you wonder … when he noticeably ignores these prevalent issues. I mean, it’s a border crisis and he’s speaking in Texas. You’d think he’d tailor his agenda just a little.”
Tailor, however, he did not. He spent a large amount — what Johnson referred to as an “excessive” amount — of time discussing the Republicans’ responsibility for the gridlock in Washington.
“The best you can say about [the Republicans] this year,” Obama said, “is that they have not managed to shut down the government,” referring to the two-week federal government shutdown of last October. That temporary loss of non-essential services was caused by a lack of agreement over funding for Obamacare.
“I felt a bit attacked,” Johnson admits. “It was like, why are you not speaking to these bigger issues here?”
The president spoke only briefly on the unfolding humanitarian crisis, using it to propagate the overarching Democratic call-to-arms.
“The Senate has some Republicans who actually worked with Democrats to pass a bill [that would] help make the system more fair,” Obama said. “But the House Republicans haven’t even taken a vote on the bill. They don’t have enough energy or organization — or, I don’t know what, to even vote no. And they’re mad at me for trying to do some things to make the immigration system work better.”
For someone who spent a bulk of the time boasting the need for bipartisanship, it was a critique that rang a bit hollow. Missing from the speech was any real access to immigration discussion without slander--almost as though serious discussion of the humanitarian crisis was sacrificed at risk of losing public support on other issues.
Government junior Grant Wiles and government senior Christopher Cyrus seem to feel differently. “I think it’s clear where the president stands on the border crisis,” says Wiles, speaking to his controversial $3.8 billion immigration proposal. A longtime member of the Democratic party, Wiles believes the commander-in-chief ultimately achieved the goal of his speech: bolstering support and highlighting economic successes. Cyrus agrees, adding, “The president made clear that where gridlock prevents legislation enactment, [Obama] will continue to move on policy objectives.”
But this begs the question: How far can one man move, acting alone on an issue that divides even his own party?
This humanitarian crisis must be attended to with immediacy and diligence by both parties. And in a political landscape marred by extreme polarization, it can be difficult to set aside party identification for substantive change. Politics, much like Oscar Wilde says of the truth, is “rarely pure and never simple.” But even in the wake of a bolstered economy, I think Americans of both parties can agree: We deserve more than one-sided stories from Obama and other officials who represent us. We deserve educated discussion and accessible information about national crises from our incumbents, even if this means approval points may be lost in the process. We deserve problems without partisan spin, solutions without slander. And when we begin to lose that at the hands of political gain?
Well, it’s time we demand this access for ourselves.
Deppisch is a government senior from League City. Follow her on Twitter @b_deppy.