Christie, Obama, and the Refugee Debate


Dan Scotto

Dan Scotto lives and works in New Jersey. He has a master's degree in history, with a focus on the history of disease and the history of technology.

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188 Responses

  1. Avatar Chip Daniels says:

    This is one of John Coles’s “Tires and Anthrax” situations.

    It isn’t Obama’s policy versus some modest attempt to more carefully vet the process.
    It is Obama’s policy versus naked and raw nativist derp, something ugly right out of 1938.

    When confronted by this sort of thing, its dishonest to feign BSDI, to pretend as though a modest concession to the Trumpistas will bring a lasting peace in our time.

    There needs to be a strong and clear line drawn about what we stand for and what we don’t.Report

  2. Avatar CK MacLeod says:

    “Instinctive pugilistic communitarianism” – or simply put populism, or some would say “Jacksonianism” – would also explain why Christie’s reply to Trump’s “Muslims celebrating 9/11 in Joisey” would be as lame and tame as it was. Christie did produce a quote or two sufficient to be used against Trump, but was nowhere near as fierce as some might have preferred, or have expected based on reputation. If you say “9/11” to Christie, his “instinctive” response is protective of his imaginary American community or the People. It’s not that in other contexts – like the manufactured controversy re: Sohail Mohammed – he can’t recognize American Muslims as part of the national community, but Trump’s statement was offered on behalf of the community against a threat to it. Christie’s reflexes were compromised.

    Trump’s statement is crypto-fascistic, and many observers nowadays don’t bother with any qualifiers in using the f-word on Trump and his supporters, but “instinctive pugilistic communitarianism” also reads like a general definition for fascism or a description of fascism’s main mode of operation. Christie is no fascist, but his style and approach are crypto-Trump, the non-doctrinaire Northeastern tough guy conservative who makes up for his deficiencies by capturing the Jacksonian id. With a similar profile, Giuliani in 2008 led the R pre-primary polls for a long time. So it’s not surprising that Christie has had such difficulty finding traction (or that his weakness for other reasons produced an opening for Trump to exploit): His profile is leading or mostly leading the polls already, it’s just not him tracing it.Report

  3. Avatar greginak says:

    So various R candidates and pols in congress accuse O of treason, wanting to destroy america and happily allowing terrorists into the country and then when he snaps back he is the divisive one. Stopping taking refugees in isn’t based on xenophobia, not at all, the fear being stoked by conservative media figures and pols has not one possible iota of xenophobia in it. Not one measly particle at all.

    If you want the US to take refugees, then the policy is to work towards taking them, not riding along with the demagogues suggesting the country is being taken over by Islam or that we should be closing or watching mosques and have some nebulous database of muslims.

    Dan really, its nice to have conservative here, but this is the same tired crap we have been served for years. R’s serve up a giant buffet of viscousness and muck and who is to blame for the upset stomach…Obama for not being something or other. If you don’t like the xenophobia it is easy to find the peddlers but they aren’t where you want to see it.Report

    • Avatar Stillwater says:

      So various R candidates and pols in congress accuse O of treason,

      The media used to take those kinds of accusations seriously, as serious, at least, as the accusation merits. Which is serious! Now the media doesn’t even blink at those claims and let’s them stand unchallenged since they know that those claims aren’t serious in any serious sense of that word. GOP-speak has degenerated into pure silliness. Seriously.Report

    • Avatar CK MacLeod says:

      greginak: then when he snaps back he is the divisive one

      No, he is another divisive one, and Dan’s argument is simply the one that O himself, to his credit except in the mind of reflexive partisans, adopted as his own, first as rising star proclaiming no such thing as red states and blue states, and then all the more as president, as fundamental to the concept of the American presidency. He “joined the fray” with those remarks, speaking on foreign soil or from across “the water’s edge,” while showing a typical left-liberal disregard for the Jacksonian nerve already inflamed by the underlying issues – refugee/immigration and terrorism. Needless to say, any prior transgressions will have already been discounted by those who lack that nerve or for whom is has been deadened.

      For those who go around always in a state of pustulent Jacksonian inflammation, he had already betrayed himself long before he was elected. Just being a Democrat, even a Zell Miller Democrat, is enough for many such people. All the same, you don’t need to be Trumpist to recognize that these comments were politically combative, and brought the President by his own volition down to the level of all of us lesser beings.Report

      • Avatar greginak says:

        Oh okay, so at least we agree the R candidates and Pols were already mired in the fetid squalor of standard rhetoric. You are suggesting that any comment by O that is not the most high minded brings him down. Meh, that sets up an impossible bind where he can never speak in anything but the purest tones or he is divisive and lord knows that if he only ever speaks in the purest tones he is being to good for the rest of us.Report

        • Avatar Dan Scotto says:

          I’m frustrated on two levels:

          1. I’m in favor of the notion that politics is supposed to stop at the water’s edge. This sort of condemnation, if it must happen, should be kept to the US.
          2. More importantly, it’s completely unproductive. Let’s say that he’s entirely right and opponents are acting out of irrational fear and xenophobia. So what? It doesn’t help anyone to say it. It doesn’t advance the ball, and if anything, it ended up chasing some Democrats into opposition.Report

          • Avatar Lurker says:

            Let’s say that he’s entirely right and opponents are acting out of irrational fear and xenophobia. So what? It doesn’t help anyone to say it.

            I hope everyone realizes how wrong this is.

            ‘Sure X is racist and morally horrific, but it doesn’t help anyone to say it. Please be kind to those saying the monstrous things”

            (Also, aren’t conservatives fans of bold truth tellers like Reagan -supposing he was a truth teller? Isn’t stating moral truth powerfully and simply a conservative value? A Christian value?)

            This really seems like a desperate attempt to BSDI or blame Obama and the left for something that is purely a problem on the right.Report

            • Avatar Jaybird says:

              I think that this is more a discussion of “is” rather than “ought”.

              If we want to talk about “ought”, we can take turns discussing how horrible Republicans are.

              If we want to talk about “is”, we suddenly are making sausage. Which is disgusting. It’s easy to look at that and talk about “ought”.

              But if you want to move the ball, making allowances for “is” is more likely to move the ball than talking about “ought”, even though it oughtn’t.

              I mean, with these numbers, anyway.Report

            • Avatar Stillwater says:

              Yeah, “so what?” is where I get off the bus as well. I think that creates two big problems going forward, one of which directly undermines Dan’s own argument. The first is that if a large segment of “we the people” reflexively oppose a policy position outa ignorance or irrational fear, then conceding to them on those grounds reinforces the use of ignorance and fear as political tools, but legitimizes them as substantively correct beliefs as well.

              The other thing is that insofar as the goal of folks whose views are based on ignorance and fear is to, in this case, support a policy of not allowing refugees in, then conceding ground to them – by slowing down the process or whatever – ultimately serves their (irrational and fear driven) goals buy getting them closer to attaining them. So it seems to me that Dan’s hypothetical restructuring of the Obama’s response as presented in the OP makes his point only if we have good reason to believe that his doing so, with the accompanying concessions to those demands, woulda increased the likelihood of attaining the goal of bringing those refugees. Personally, I don’t think that woulda happened but people can – and apparently do! – disagree about that. Especially in the current political climate, one increasingly defined by xenophobia of all things not White Christian American-heartness.

              That’s not to say that Obama shouldn’t have been more inclusive of The Fear in his quoted comments, for purely diplomatic reasons, irrespective of whether those words moved the ball towards attaining his preferred goal. (That’s not Dan’s view but some folks here have expressed as much.)Report

              • Avatar Stillwater says:

                And adding to that a bit: notice that Obama’s comment which gave rise to this thread and all the subsequent discussion is a response to the “religious test” issue – that only Syrian Christians should be admitted – and his response was a forceful “we don’t have religious tests for entry into America”. Which is correct, and I really can’t understand why his saying so, with force!, is at all a matter of debate, or should be softened to include the fears of people who want to impose such a test.Report

              • Because if Obama had spoken more softly, instead of reflexively antagonizing his opponents, he might have been able to work out a compromise, say, in addition to Christians, allowing Jews for Jesus.Report

              • Not Mormons, though, unless they give up their heretical beliefs and weird underwear.Report

              • Avatar Stillwater says:

                Here’s a thought: When Trump is rounding up all the illegals with his compassionate Deportation Force he can round up all the Mormons too. They’ve been nothin but trouble, really. And who can tell what’s in their Heart, what with worshipping New World Jesus and all?Report

    • Avatar Rufus F. says:

      Well, he is the President…Report

      • Avatar Chip Daniels says:

        Obama should adopt the decorous tone of this partisan:

        “For nearly four years you have had an Administration which instead of twirling its thumbs has rolled up its sleeves. We will keep our sleeves rolled up.

        We had to struggle with the old enemies of peace—business and financial monopoly, speculation, reckless banking, class antagonism, sectionalism, war profiteering.

        They had begun to consider the Government of the United States as a mere appendage to their own affairs. We know now that Government by organized money is just as dangerous as Government by organized mob.

        Never before in all our history have these forces been so united against one candidate as they stand today. They are unanimous in their hate for me—and I welcome their hatred.

        I should like to have it said of my first Administration that in it the forces of selfishness and of lust for power met their match. I should like to have it said of my second Administration that in it these forces met their master.”

        P.S. F*ck Off and Die, Bitchezz.Report

  4. Avatar North says:

    I think Beinart at the Atlantic is right that Obama is looking more to history than to his opponents by putting it the way he did. I for one am content to be on record on the side of compassion and courage instead of the naked nativist pants wetting the GOP is indulging in.

    That said, had Obama actually genuinely desired to have Syrian refugees admitted he’d have had to feign apprehension or reluctance to do it and then “acquiesce” when the GOP clamored to oppose him. Such is the state of the party right now and they do control the Senate and Congress- a fact that cannot be speeched or handwaved away.Report

  5. Avatar Jaybird says:

    One thing I’ve wondered: what’s the plan for the refugees? Put them in a camp (or something) until it’s time to ship them back or is it to say “Okey-doke, you’re Americans now”?

    Everybody is arguing about this as if the plan is the latter.

    Or is that not even relevant to the debate?Report

    • Avatar Michael Cain says:

      Not “Americans” unless they decide to pursue citizenship, but pretty much automatic permanent resident status (“green card”) a year or two down the road if they stay out of trouble.Report

      • Avatar Jaybird says:

        So it’s an immigration argument on one level with a veneer of it being an argument about refugees?

        (Though, honestly, 200 refugees/immigrants per state is a pitiful amount. Obama’s ability to parlay this into how he’s performing a brave moral act is pretty awesome.)Report

        • Avatar Stillwater says:

          (Though, honestly, 200 refugees/immigrants per state is a pitiful amount. Obama’s ability to parlay this into how he’s performing a brave moral act is pretty awesome.)

          No more awesome than the opposition’s ability to parlay that act as evidence of his Kenyan-Muslim UnAmerican-ness, treason!, and creating such a massive threat to our safety that Freedom Loving Patriots are afraid to go to the movies!!Report

    • Avatar greginak says:

      They would be allowed to settle here to build lives and become citizens if it worked out.Report

    • Avatar notme says:

      The only thing that is relevant is that opposing letting in as many refugees as possible makes you a horrible human being. After that nothing matters, is relevant or needs to be discussed.Report

    • Avatar CK MacLeod says:

      Plan? Why does there need to be plan? What’s important is to have a wedge issue!

      The problem is that, even while claiming no evidenced connection between refugees and dangers, the vast majority of proponents of a more open policy concede the existence of a threat, requiring some more or less rigorous “screening procedure.” If there’s no conceivable danger – no escalated challenge to homeland defense or to other “community” priorities – then there would be no need for screening at all.

      For that matter, if accepting would-be immigrants, whether designated refugees or not, was always either an unqualified good or a moral necessity, if there were no valid counterclaims on the part of affected communities (local, state, national), there would be no need for borders at all, or for citizenship at all. Some observers, possibly some here, really do implicitly equate borders and citizenship with injustice, though few would say so or even recognize the position as their own.

      Dan’s more “inclusive” statement is something closer to a mainstream unity position that also would be consistent, apparently, with past Obama Admin policy. The old Obama, candidate or first-time nominee Obama, politically successful Obama, would likely have said something much more like what Dan said – good addition to mention “our military efforts” in that context: Align acceptance of refugees with the Jacksonian current and instead of putting the former in opposition to the latter.Report

      • Avatar Chris says:

        The problem is that, even while claiming no evidenced connection between refugees and dangers, the vast majority of proponents concede the existence of a threat, requiring some more or less rigorous “screening procedure.”

        You may have elided a causal connection there.Report

        • Avatar CK MacLeod says:

          I believe I merely pointed out an apparent contradiction. I did however include an unnecessary comma. Perhaps you can explain why it would be necessary to “screen” the refugees if not in relation to some kind of danger or harm.Report

          • Avatar Gaelen says:

            There’s no real contradiction. It’s that the refugees pose little or no risk with the security procedures in place. Or . . . what Chris said.Report

          • Avatar Chris says:

            The causal connection makes the two statements non-contradictory. In fact, the only way they can be contradictory is if one sets out to read the people who say such things extremely uncharitably, but à chacun son goût.Report

            • Avatar CK MacLeod says:

              To favor screening refugees – indeed, to favor fairly rigorous screening – implies belief in a rational basis for concern.

              If there is a rational basis for x concern over admitting n refugees, then admitting 2n refugees, or, as in Jason K’s well-received post, admitting 10n or 20n refugees, implies some increase in the value of x, or greater concern. To acknowledge that possibility is to acknowledge the basis for a rational disagreement over how much of an increase in the value of x a multiplication of n implies.

              The contradiction is in treating the greater concern as completely groundless, and therefore explicable only on the basis of immoral partisanship or other paranoia, and so on, while proposing a policy that acknowledges grounds for concern. I don’t see how arguments about “causality” trump it, and you still haven’t explained how they might.Report

              • Avatar Stillwater says:

                To favor screening refugees – indeed, to favor fairly rigorous screening – implies belief in a rational basis for concern.

                Not necessarily. Favoring screening could derive from the expression of irrational fear which needs to be accomodated for political purposes. Or from other politically based expressions. See, for example, Dan’s argument in the OP. His argument is that Obama shoulda conceded ground to conservatives for purely instrumental, political purposes, in order to ensure that those refugees gain admittance.Report

              • Avatar greginak says:

                I already noted the circular nature of that argument.

                It would be easier to dismiss the paranoia if some of the proponents of not taking the refugees weren’t jumping up and down and yelling about how much danger we are in by taking them or taking the muslim ones or yakking about doing things we have never considered or plainly saying we would be taking in future terrorists.Report

              • Avatar CK MacLeod says:

                That a feedback loop of paranoia is possible doesn’t bear on the fundamental question. If screening was and remains justifiable (on whatever bases, including but not limited to direct threat), then concern is justifiable, and, before we consider other changing aspects of the situation that may bear on an accurate assessment, pro or con, an increase the number admitted implies a basis for increased concern.

                I still do not know whether you or those arguing on your side believe that there is a valid basis for screening refugees that goes beyond “throwing a bone” to paranoid cowardly inhumane un-American racist fascists. Do you think the Obama Administration is just putting on a show of concern? Do you think it should do so, even if it doesn’t really believe that screening is necessary?Report

              • Avatar greginak says:

                I’m fine with screening all refugees from anyplace. I doubt it needs to be as long a process as it is though. So we had a process to deal with vetting that had been in place for many years which were using. So why stop then? People were still going to have to go threw a long process, there was plenty of time to screen them. No problem then.Report

              • Avatar Don Zeko says:

                @ck-macleod There are a couple of pieces missing here. First, I don’t think you would be seeing the same assumption that R’s are being racist or xenophobic or pandering if what the R’s were calling for was simply a re-examination or tightening of screening procedures. In the real world, the R’s are falling all over themselves to insist that no refugees are settled in their state, or that no refugees be admitted at all, or that refugees be admitted or denied on the basis of their religious beliefs. It’s true that it would be unfair to say that any concern over security with regard to refugees is out of bounds, but that plainly isn’t what’s happening.

                The R’s behavior is absolutely over the top, histrionic, and totally unengaged with the substance of the screening procedures that are in place, so naturally D’s are responding to the histrionic, awful argument that is being made. If you look at the full text of Obama’s remarks, you’ll see that he grants the legitimacy of concerns over security, then defends the existing procedures, and only then gets in his jabs at Republicans. It seems to me that you are responding to a broader, less defensible argument than what your interlocutors are making, because defending the actual things that actual governors and presidential candidates and congressmen are actually saying and doing is so difficult.Report

              • Avatar CK MacLeod says:

                In the real world, the R’s are falling all over themselves to insist that no refugees are settled in their state, or that no refugees be admitted at all, or that refugees be admitted or denied on the basis of their religious beliefs.

                It seems to me that you are responding to a broader, less defensible argument than what your interlocutors are making, because defending the actual things that actual governors and presidential candidates and congressmen are actually saying and doing is so difficult.

                First, I’m not interested in “defending” any party or candidate as such. Second, I always prefer, in this age of ready access to information and easy cutting-pasting-linking, to look at what other people say rather than at what other people say they say. (I know, of course, that sometimes it makes no difference. I can make a statement on a comment thread and just a few inches lower in screen space find someone reacting to a version of it in which words have been removed or changed, or the specific sense or context of the statement ignored, and the alteration in meaning has been made the sole basis of some ludicrous attack on my intelligence or ability to express myself.)

                Speaker Ryan called for “a pause” in light of the perceived escalated threat from IS. To many observers, this position appears simply to be prudent. Others claim – Jeb! for instance – that the governors who have refused to accept refugees at this time are justified because they “haven’t gotten any information about what the screening process is.” Like Christie, another governor, of course, he makes an argument that Dan labels “logistical.” If we were seriously interested in what the other side on this issue says, we could look through the actual arguments made, and address the best ones in their most coherent form, rather than picking out the cherries or cherry-bombs that make us feel better, pointlessly, about being with the good people vs the bad people.

                There is also, of course, a loud and prominent constituency that views Muslims or people from undeveloped countries as generally poor candidates for American citizenship (or likely long term residency) or, in some cases, as simply the enemy. However, Bush’s statements about letting in Christians have been sensationalized. Here is how his remarks were reported:

                “At a minimum we ought to be bringing in people that have — orphans or people that clearly aren’t going to be terrorists. Or Christians,” Bush said during a campaign stop South Carolina. “There are no Christian terrorists in the Middle East, they’re persecuted.”

                So, his first, somewhat garbled statement is that the US ought to be accepting refugees, including “at a minimum… orphans or people that clearly aren’t going to be terrorists.” He then mentions Christians – as an alternative sub-group, so in other words as being acceptable in addition to non-threatening Muslims, “at a minimum” – and points out that Christians have been “persecuted.”

                “Persecuted” at the moment includes being subjected to genocidal warfare by IS and others, with large and ancient communities, such as that of the Assyrian Christians, radically reduced in size. The plight of the Assyrians has been covered by major news organizations, and the story itself is not controversial, although hard numbers are impossible to get in the current situation. The rhetorical question put by the NYT last July speaks volumes: “Is This the End of Christianity in the Middle East?” As does the sub-title: “ISIS and other extremist movements across the region are enslaving, killing and uprooting Christians, with no aid in sight.”

                The notion of particular solidarity with persecuted Christians seems to be somewhat politically incorrect (we are to experience fellow-feeling only in general terms, though preferably for designated representatives of groups previously oppressed by the Christian West), and so is left to the likes of Trump and Cruz to exploit demagogically. On this note, it’s relevant that Cruz’s own core constituency, or supposed core constituency, of evangelical and other conservative Christians has been divided over the Republican response to the refugee crisis and on the immigration issue. This article is one of many you can easily find on this topic:

                Even bringing up the underlying issue and calling for a specific, as in targeted, response leads to accusations of Islamophobia – in this case even taken up by the President. If Dan were re-writing the President’s attack on Republican critics of his refugee proposals more “inclusively,” a word or two about the acknowledging concerns specific to Middle Eastern Christians – and to other religious minorities – might have been well-received, even if he went on to criticize those like Bush and Cruz who give any appearance of asking for a “religious test.”

                Instead, his words were taken, and appeared intended to be taken, as unqualifiedly harsh denunciation of Republican presidential candidates, among other things challenging their manhood. The President’s supporters and allies seemed visibly, to me, to take his statements as license to escalate their own rhetoric. Whether or not my observation is correct, I was, like Dan I think, sorry to see this notoriously temperate President, who has withstood so much unfair and even bizarre criticism with equanimity and humor, seize the opportunity to “give some back,” before reporters overseas. I don’t think it will help him or his party politically either, not that I consider that the most important question.Report

              • Avatar Chris says:

                You have, again, read them extremely uncharitably. It’s not as though their position is complex: there is very little, if any danger to the United States from refugees because they go through a rigorous, years-long, multi-level screening process that doesn’t stop even when they get here. No one denies that it is possible for bad guys to mix in with the huge refugee stream and get into countries that are ill-equipped for this many people in this short a span of time. In fact, no one denies that at least one of the Paris attackers came through in the refugee stream, but it looks like the benefit of doing so for them was avoiding regular European screenings and then, as European citizens (in fact, mostly as French citizens), being able to travel around Europe relatively freely. However, this does not apply to the U.S.

                It is pretty straightforward to say, from this basic, simple, non-contradictory position that the fears Americans are showing in the wake of the Paris attacks are at best unfounded, and perhaps worse. Certainly, we should continue to exercise caution in the screening process, but as no one I’ve seen has said otherwise, I’m not sure why this even needs to be reiterated, and this is certainly not the position that the anti-refugee folks are taking.

                You have managed to tip-toed around this without actually addressing it, but it’s a very simple argument, one that does not contain within its two basic premises nor its supportive empirical ones any sort of contradiction. It is an argument that I have no doubt you are capable of grasping, but seem motivated not to do so for who knows what reason.Report

              • Avatar CK MacLeod says:

                Chris: It is an argument that I have no doubt you are capable of grasping, but seem motivated not to do so for who knows what reason.

                Please desist from making that kind of comment if you wish to have a rational discussion of this matter.Report

              • Avatar Chris says:

                It is, you might notice, a particularly MacLeodean comment to make (in fact, that it is MacLeodean is why I made it).

                However, no rational discussion is possible while you insist on uncharitable readings. So I’m happy to be less MacLeodean in the service of rational discussion when you choose to make such a discussion possible.Report

              • Avatar CK MacLeod says:

                Your response to my request that you desist from comments unnecessarily personalizing this discussion is to attach my name to a tactic you consider underhanded or “uncharitable.”

                Thanks. I needed an excuse to focus on other matters.Report

              • Avatar Stillwater says:


                I just wanted to mention that personalizing the discussion is what happens when actual persons engage in a discussion about their personal views.

                So, uh…..Report

              • Avatar Chris says:

                No, my tactic, pointing out that you were reading it uncharitably (you would have used less kind words), is the one I named for you, because you use it so frequently. I point out that it is your tactic because your objection to it should be seen in that light. But you misread that, too.

                However, if you choose to read some group extremely uncharitably, as you’ve done on successive comments, is not personalizing. You made your misreading the topic when you doubled down on it. Pointing out that you’ve misread the argument, in a blatantly tendentious way, was the only way to make it possible to discuss the actual position with you. You chose to deflect instead. So be it.Report

              • Avatar CK MacLeod says:

                You now seek, @Chris, to justify your personalizing this discussion by referring in general terms to my, as you claim, “extremely uncharitable” and “blatantly tendentious” remarks. Not just “uncharitable” or “tendentious,” but extremely and blatantly so and so! How unkind and careless, and more than a little ridiculous, of me!

                It should be easy for you to locate the specific remarks that were so extremely and blatantly wrong. Perhaps they were as unkind to some participants in these discussions as the remarks the President made in the Philippines – not just the ones Dan quoted above, but the additional ones noted here: If so, then I’ll be glad to apologize, if anyone is willing to hear my words after such a performance. The difficulty for me is that when I, in my perhaps inexcusable blindness, scan my statements above, I do not see anything that stands out quite in this way.

                I apologize re-doubledly in advance if my failure to detect my sins must be taken to deepen them (if even possible). So, please, in the interest of helping me to become a better person in the eyes of rational, kind people like yourself, easier for you to tolerate, would you point out my errors to me specifically? I will be as appreciative as I can be.

                Just one thing: Please try to keep my name out of it. There are many, perhaps countless MacLeods, as well as McLeods, who do not deserve to have their reputations tarnished by the comment-thread machinations and blatant extremism of a single very lesser MacLeod.Report

              • Avatar Chris says:

                You must have missed me saying that it was extremely uncharitable the first time. And the second. I’ve even pointed out why it is extremely uncharitable. The tendentious of your reading is evident in the use to which you put it.

                I guess if you’re gonna do poor readings today, you’re only gonna go readings.Report

              • Avatar CK MacLeod says:

                Chris: You must have missed me saying that it was extremely uncharitable the first time. And the second.

                I saw it the first time. It made as little sense to me then.

                I asked you for specifics, you instead refer to a prior characterization of yours based on unspecified assumptions. You could, for instance, point to specific words of mine, and explain which other words would have, for you, expressed a more “charitable,” or less “extremely uncharitable,” “reading [of] the people who say such things” – whoever those people are supposed to be, and whichever those things are supposed to be. You could explain what the import of the extremely uncharitable reading is, and give examples of possibly not extremely uncharitable readings of the same people or statements.

                For example, I think you have conducted a clearly, though I won’t say extremely, uncharitable reading of me or of my commentary, specifically when you call it “extremely uncharitable.” You might, if you were of a mind to be charitable toward me, it being the Season of Giving, consider that I have seen different statements than you have, or have assessed them differently, and not entirely unreasonably, if still perhaps mistakenly.

                I have in fact read many statements – in articles, in blogs, on twitter – where people refer to a lack of evidence of refugees directly involved in acts of terror, often joined to declarations as to the moral and practical wrongness of any less open policy on refugees. Other than to note the existence of such statements, however, I do not, in the comments above, spend much time – as far as I in my apparent blindness am able to discern – characterizing those in favor of a more open policy. My main focus has been on accusations of the type the President made in the Philippines and Turkey, and on similar statements made by others on his side, including some people much more skeptical than he appears to be in regard to security concerns. I don’t see why such a questioning should be ruled out of bounds or “extremely uncharitable.”

                Your first statement containing the latter charge reads as follows:

                The causal connection makes the two statements non-contradictory. In fact, the only way they can be contradictory is if one sets out to read the people who say such things extremely uncharitably, but à chacun son goût.

                The “two statements” – or actually a set of connected rhetorical ploys vs an apparent presumption underlying a policy – are in contradiction because the former underline the exiguity of any danger or additional danger, but the latter acknowledges the seriousness of the danger or potential danger. It’s not a complicated contradiction. The charge of cowardice before orphans and widows requires minimization of the actual threat; the policy implies recognition of a substantial threat.

                You claim that acknowledgment of the threat is universal – that there is “no one” saying anything other than the following – your emphases:

                [T]here is very little, if any danger to the United States from refugees because they go through a rigorous, years-long, multi-level screening process that doesn’t stop even when they get here.

                I think your statement may be wrong in several ways. In my observation the implications of the statements made by many participants in this discussion seem to be that the threat from refugees or (a different thing) the potential harm directly or indirectly from the admission of larger numbers of refugees, is negligible. (Indeed, many take the position that there is no authentic danger “to the United States” from terrorism at all, regardless of the source.) Jason K, for example, takes the position that terrorism will just happen anyway, that it’s not really a very big deal judged rationally (he is not unique in holding this view), so we might as well in the meantime take in hundreds of thousands of refugees. Others may doubt that the screening procedures are really the reason that there has been no or at most very little and dubiously defined terroristic violence traceable to refugee populations.

                However, let’s grant your proposition for sake of argument, and say that the success of our screening program hitherto explains a lack of terrorist violence originating among refugees. If so, then, if we are arguing consistently, we are – or, as you say, everyone is – acknowledging the existence of a serious threat or danger potentially originating among refugees. (I do not know if Chip, Stillwater, Greginak, and others like Jason K, concede this point.)

                The question would then be whether this agreed important screening program, in combination with whatever other measures, would be capable of handling an influx of refugees at this time, or whether there might in fact be reasons at least to question whether that is so, and a potential for valid disagreement. Do we possess screeners in sufficient numbers? Is it easy to scale the program up? Is the threat worse in some way, perhaps as demonstrated by the Paris attacks, or on the basis of altered intentions and predicaments of known terrorist groups? Do we know that monitoring of potential threats within relatively large communities, as distinct from initial screening of refugees, may not be stressed or compromised?

                IF the threat is real, as you say everyone believes, and the screening program critical, then all of these are significant questions, among others, and, furthermore, the answers may be different in different places and for different reasons. Citizens may also vary greatly in degrees of confidence in the ability of government to handle this presumed real threat effectively. When officials make remarks that indicate they are approaching these questions ideologically, or simply idealistically, or politically, rather than seriously and pragmatically, those already inclined to distrust government may become even more distrustful. They may deeply resent being lectured about their moral constitutions, or American-ness, or personal courage, merely on the basis of their different assessment of what “everyone” concedes are real risks.

                It doesn’t require any great lack of charity toward proponents of a more open policy, or any particular point of view at all, to acknowledge the shape of the situation in these terms.Report

      • Avatar greginak says:

        Crikey…O has repeatedly said the inclusive stuff you want to hear but then people focus on the snappy stuff. We have a long vetting process, so there must be danger, so fear is warranted. If fear is warranted then we should stop. But we could let them in if we had a vetting process, which we do. When we can vet them we can let some in at some point in the future, even though we vet them now. But if we vet them now then there must be danger and fear is warranted, so we should slow up until we can vet them. The circle is complete.

        Next up is, if my cousins FB links are any indication, screaming how O hasn’t been willing to take the fight to ISIS like Russia and the French. Because they are bombing away. Of course we’ve been bombing them for a year but..something something…O is weak and not tough like Putin.Report

        • Avatar Stillwater says:

          I just read up a bit on the vetting process. It’s more rigorous than other forms of entry into the country, for example, as a tourist or a student.

          Why is Obama not making foreign students take a religious purity test before studying in the US? I think the answer is crystal clear…Report

          • Avatar greginak says:

            The more vetting we give them the more reason to fear. The more fear the more reason to stop until we can vet them.

            Yeah its a significant check they have to go through. If we could just tell if they were muslim or christian.Report

            • Avatar Stillwater says:

              From Wiki:

              United States Refugee Admissions Program. The USRAP is a constantly evolving program. Though it has not been officially revised since the Refugee Act of 1980, the procedures for implementation have changed from year to year, creating inconsistencies between the projected ceiling and the actual number of refugees admitted. For example, just over 56,000 refugees were admitted in 2011 although the ceiling was set at 80,000.Report

        • Avatar CK MacLeod says:

          greginak: O has repeatedly said the inclusive stuff you want to hear but then people focus on the snappy stuff.

          Kind of like this:

          You look great, honey. Those pants look great on you. I really like the way those pants go with that jacket. I just don’t know how to express how proud I am to be with you. You are one fine-looking lady. Well, maybe they make your butt look a little bigger. You look great, honey. Those pants look great on you. I really like the way those pants go with the jacket. You are one fine-looking lady.

          Snappy stuff: You’re a shameful un-American coward afraid of three-year-olds, recruiting for IS. But why can’t we all get along?

          Your “on balance, we’re much better than they are” argument would be more credible if you could just admit that this particular set of remarks was questionable, as in possibly ill-considered and counterproductive, that Dan may have a point, and that you might have been out of line dismissing it as “crap.”Report

          • Avatar Stillwater says:

            that Dan may have a point

            On my reading, Dan actually agrees with the content of Obama’s quoted comment, and merely objects to it on tactical and not substaitive grounds: that Obama shoulda thrown conservatives a bone by slowing down the process in order to ensure that the refugees make it to the US.

            For example, Dan says the following regarding his own views of the matter:

            “I want the US to take on refugees from Syria, but Obama’s ham-handedness enables critics, rather than neutralizing them”, and

            “Agreeing to a temporary pause while re-examining the program would neutralize the opposition. In the long term, he would get the policy outcome he wanted, without much harm.”

            So his objection is to Obama’s tactics. And nowhere (at least on my reading) does Dan say or imply that conservative’s have a legitimate worry regarding potential threats which Obama should have conceded.Report

            • Avatar CK MacLeod says:

              Dan can speak for himself on the validity of the “the content of Obama’s quoted comment.” One could believe that Obama’s comments were in themselves correct, but should not have been uttered by a president in that time and place.

              The emphasis throughout the statement that Dan suggests Obama should have made is on acknowledgment of the validity of security concerns. Dan’s better Obama emphasizes that he “certainly understand[s]” the basis of the governers’ “concerns.” Dan’s better Obama acknowledges a security “challenge” requiring enhanced “vetting processes.” Dan’s better Obama emphasizes his administration’s own “concerns about security threats” and finally promises to “do our best to do so by allowing as many refugees into the United States as we can process securely.” Dan then, in his own words, refers to “the threat” without suggesting anything about it not being a real threat.

              I don’t think Dan is advocating dishonesty on Obama’s part just for “tactical” advantage. I think the Administration really does believe in, and has all along believed in and acted as though it believes in, a valid security concern and in a related, non-contradictory. complementary, and independently significant and valid political concern.Report

              • Avatar Stillwater says:

                One could believe that Obama’s comments were in themselves correct, but should not have been uttered by a president in that time and place.

                See how easy it is to agree with people, CK? Just like that, you’ve agreed with my view of what Dan is arguing in this post.

                And just for the record, I disagree with him about what he’s arguing in the post.Report

            • Avatar Dan Scotto says:

              I’m not in a position to judge the merits of the concerns, to be frank. My heuristic is that there are some substantial liberal Democrats who are joining with Republicans, so my suspicion is that the concerns are at least somewhat valid. My hope is that we can address the concerns and continue to produce the humanitarian outcome, which is to continue to accept refugees from the region. I fear Obama’s comments make that outcome less likely.Report

              • Avatar Lurker says:

                there are some substantial liberal Democrats who are joining with Republicans, so my suspicion is that the concerns are at least somewhat valid.

                Seriously? A minority of dems, playing to right-leaning constituents also acts in xenophobic, Islamaphobic, racist way, therefore such an act is “somewhat valid?”Report

      • Avatar Jaybird says:

        I do think that there is some stuff worth worrying over, one of which is the issue of how these particular immigrants will be immigrants who, otherwise, would not have even attempted to come to the US (maybe a small percentage would have, of course, but most would have been just as happy to stay at home). There are issues with integration that come out of that situation that wouldn’t come out if we’re talking about people who were willing to put up with our BS immigration system for 7-12 years.Report

        • Avatar greginak says:

          Well it’s not like immigrants from a place like Somali could settle in fricking Minnesota or anything like that. Or that Filipino’s would settle in Alaska.Report

          • Avatar Jaybird says:

            Interesting point, Greg. Did the Somali refugees who were moved to Minnesota have any issues with integrating and assimilating into the larger culture?

            If they didn’t, I guess we can say that my fears about such things are ill-founded.

            That question also applies to the Filipino refugees who were trans-located to Alaska.Report

            • Avatar North says:

              Well they sure as hell have assimilated into terrible cell phone users while they drive. The number of times a big black SUV with a little Somali lady behind the wheel chatting away on a cell phone tucked into her headcovering (handsfree!) has nearly turned my little car into a twisted wreck is a lot higher than my blood pressure would like.

              Beyond that and a bit of revanchavism from their younger dumber elements they seem to be assimilating fine from my point of view.Report

            • Avatar greginak says:

              Every immigrant group has issues with settling in a new country. That shoudl be axiomatic. What determines how well they will do relates to a number of things mostly how much they want to fit in, how much they need to fit and how welcome they are in the community. Plenty of immigrant groups have done fine and dandy including many muslims.

              I have no fear i’ll be corrected if and when i’m wrong, but from what i remember the Somali’s in Minn have done well. @North, is that correct?Report

              • Avatar Jaybird says:

                Greg, my issue is *NOT* with “will immigrants assimilate?” (I’m 100% down with that issue). My question involves the whole “will immigrants who otherwise didn’t want to come here who get dropped into a new society that they didn’t want to come to in the first place assimilate?”

                Which strikes me as a fundamentally different question.Report

              • Avatar North says:

                Jay, I’d suggest that immigrants of the type you’re describing would very promptly emmigrate back to Syria once the ruckus dies down and the question of their assimilation would become moot.Report

              • Avatar Stillwater says:

                I place a higher confidence on their ability to assimilate than I do of Murkins to view them as having actually, really-truly, pinky-swear-it’s-true, assimilated. (Do they have American hearts? How could they, they didn’t grow up watching “Fun with Dick and Jane”!!) That’s my worry about bringing all those folks over here. Not the them, but the (increasingly xenophobic and increasingly violent) US.

                {{Oh, wait. The shooters in the Minnesota incident were prolly Christians with American Hearts and the people being shot at prolly weren’t. So nothing for Rep. King or Erickson to get sceart about here. My bad.}}Report

              • Avatar Don Zeko says:

                Vietnamese refugees in the 70’s seemed to do fine. Refugees from various parts of Europe after WWII seem to have done fine. The Irish fleeing the potato famine seem to have done fine. Jews fleeing pogroms in Eastern Europe seem to have done fine. What’s the argument for assuming that this (much smaller) group of immigrants-via-duress won’t?Report

              • Avatar Jaybird says:

                Would you say a period of integration that mirrors the integration of the Vietnamese, Irish, and Jews is what we’re going for, here?

                (Honestly, the Vietnamese is the most recent, most relevant, and least tumultuous of the three and that’s probably something worth comparing to as well… though I think that the comparison to the Somali refugees is the closest we’re going to get to apples/apples.)Report

              • Avatar Don Zeko says:

                I would say that one would be hard pressed to find a historical example where fears about non-asssimilating immigrants didn’t turn out to be wildly overblown. Thus, it behooves us to err on the side of trusting in out culture and our economy’s ability to absord immigrants and refugees successfully.

                Oh, and while I don’t have the historical social science chops to back it up, my hunch is that perhaps the least successful immigrant group one can find would be African Americans fleeing Jim Crow. The implication, I suppose, being that we perhaps should worry about Syrian refugees if ISIS or Assad ever start gaining committee chairmanships and such in the US Congress.Report

              • Avatar Chip Daniels says:

                one would be hard pressed to find a historical example where fears about non-asssimilating immigrants didn’t turn out to be wildly overblown


              • Avatar Kim says:

                You think the Hmong did just fine?
                The people who didn’t seem to think they had to work because the US government told them they didn’t?Report

              • Avatar Roland Dodds says:

                Minn Somali immigrations have been recruited to Islamist groups at a higher rate than other Muslim populations that have resettled in US, but the Muslim community there seems to be addressing this problem publicly.


              • Avatar greginak says:

                @roland-dodds That piece, while interesting, really doesn’t have enough info to judge how serious a problem there may be there. No comparisons to other groups or total numbers at all.

                @jaybird That is a fine question but it depends on many things, some of which are out of our control. Some individuals just because of who they are won’t be able to adapt. Some will. For some it could be climate or culture or being looked down upon. There is no way to really know. Never has been for all the millions of destitute refugees this country has taken.Report

              • Avatar dragonfrog says:

                I found this recent article on some of the major factors behind immigrant groups’ degree of success in assimilating to be quite interesting.


                (Short version – it’s not so much about whether immigrants, including refugees, want to succeed. Because of course they do. It’s about specific obstacles to such success, and the availability of paths around them.)Report

              • Avatar North says:

                As Roland accurately notes there has been some recruitment of Somali immigrant youths of the young dumb revanchist variety but I don’t think it represents anything systematic. The Somali community here has been absolute, outspoken and unambiguous in their denunciation and disgust with that activity. I admit that I have no Somali friends personally but a lot of them frequent my neighborhoods and they seem to be assimilating just fine.Report

              • Avatar greginak says:

                I completely believe its happened. Without far more data its impossible to know how big of a deal it is or if it out proportion to other groups or even dumb teens joining go ol american gangs.Report

            • Avatar Michael Cain says:

              Here’s an interesting story from a few years back about Somali refugees settling in a small town in Colorado.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird says:

                Yeah, that’s seemed to work out fairly well for everybody.

                The part of the story that I noticed was this: Zion has watched well-educated Somalis with good English burn out and leave town, unable to balance their own lives with demands from both their countrymen and the broader community to translate and fix problems.

                I don’t know how to feel about that. The individualist in me says “YEAH GET THE HELL OUT OF THERE AND GO AND MAKE MONEY” but there is also a social cost to that sort of thing and the eventual goal is to make as many people capable of doing that as possible.

                But that’s a lot of sacrifice to ask of a person who is capable of getting the hell out of there.Report

              • Avatar Michael Cain says:

                When I read that sentence, my reaction was that some sort of collective “we” interested in making this work — the refugees, local/state/federal government, private charities — ought to hire some of those well-educated Somalis with good English skills to be problem solvers.Report

  6. Avatar Stillwater says:

    Instead, Obama went for the reflexive partisan critique…

    What is genuinely frustrating to me, personally, is that I want the US to take on refugees from Syria, but Obama’s ham-handedness enables critics, rather than neutralizing them.

    Dan, I can’t help but interpret you, in these quotes, as aggressively agreeing with the content expressed in Obama’s “reflexive partisan critique”, and merely object to his failure to slow down the process by which those folks are being vetted for entry. So I’m having a hard time understanding why the expression of a sentiment which you, a non-partisan in this debate, actually agree with constitutes a “reflexive partisan critique” rather than merely bad politics.Report

    • Avatar dragonfrog says:

      In fairness, it would be hard to slow down a process of letting only 10,000 refugees into a country of 320 million, while still having a thing you can point to as that process. At a certain point it gets hard to trim a valve down without shutting it off entirely, Zeno’s Paradox notwithstanding.Report

    • Avatar Dan Scotto says:

      In the article, I wasn’t taking a position on the merits. But I can take one here:

      1. I’m really not in a position to judge the effectiveness of the government’s vetting process. However, the fact that there are certain liberal Democrats who voted for the House bill implies to me that the concerns are not entirely founded in political gamesmanship.
      2. I think it is reasonable for public officials to prioritize the interests of US citizens and residents over non-US residents, to a point.
      3. I want the US to take on refugees and am willing to countenance a slightly increased risk of terrorism, because I see it as the “right thing” to do.
      4. I suspect both Barack Obama and Chris Christie would agree with me on #2, though they would draw the line in different places.
      5. I am confident that Obama’s approach so far has made my desired outcome (#3) less likely.

      Sorry for the late responses on these; yesterday was a busy day.Report

      • Avatar Chris says:

        Honest question: what sorts of responses (from Obama or others) would make 3 more likely?

        Also, if there are politicians, Democrats or Republicans, who base policy decisions with profound impacts on peoples’ lives on whether they like another politician’s tone, they are terrible people and have no business having any power.Report

        • Avatar Dan Scotto says:

          Well, I presented language that I thought would have at least given opponents a reason to trust Obama. The basic idea was for him to at least try to put himself in the shoes of his opponents and to build credibility. That’s why I suggest that he highlight the 2011 pause; it signals, “hey, we’re not just idealistic bleeding-heart liberals; we’ve made cold, rational calculations in the past.”

          I see your point with judging things based on content rather than tone. But I really don’t think it’s “tone” here that’s relevant. Obama’s response made it look like he was completely dismissing the concerns of his opponents. If I oppose someone and they give me a reason to think that they at least understand my position, I might be willing to reconsider–or maybe not fight tooth-and-nail when the relevant policy decision is made; there is a cost to doing so, after all. But if all they’re doing is saying that my concerns are “un-American,” then there’s no real reason for me to listen to them.

          Let me put it another way, personally: when I listen to Obama argue on this stuff, I think he genuinely loathes conservatives. I think he thinks that my views come from irrational fear or malice towards people who are different. As a conservative, why should I trust that he will care about my concerns when implementing policy?Report

          • Avatar Chris says:

            I wonder, in the days since Obama made his remarks, as politicians and pundits have repeatedly pointed out the suspension of the program in ’11, discussed the extensiveness of the vetting process, etc., has support for #3 budged much? At all? I haven’t seen polls from the day after and this week contrasted, but I’m skeptical.

            Also, there’s a difference between having a position and adopting a position because of tone. It seemed that you were implying some Democrats switched to the opposite position because of tone. That’s disgusting, if it is true.Report

          • Avatar Stillwater says:

            when I listen to Obama argue on this stuff, I think he genuinely loathes conservatives.

            Other than his comments on the religious purity test, what has he said that you find so offensive and expressive of loathing?

            I think he thinks that my views come from irrational fear or malice towards people who are different. As a conservative, why should I trust that he will care about my concerns when implementing policy?

            Cleek’s Law!Report

            • Avatar Chip Daniels says:

              The Kenyan Marxist usurper who wants doesn’t love America or understand its culture and who wants to herd Americans into FEMA camps and install Sharia Law, this guy loathes conservatives?

              And he views people who talk about Mexican anchor babies with calves the size of cantaloupes who are drug mules and 5 year old orphan terrorist children, as having views that come from an irrational fear or malice towards people who are different?

              Odd. Very odd.Report

          • Avatar Burt Likko says:

            As a conservative, why should I trust that he will care about my concerns when implementing policy?

            Because the concern you’ve articulated is “security.” It’s not “economics” or one of the cultural issues a more red-meat sort of conservative than yourself would put front and center.

            Let us assume, for instance, that you are 100% correct that Obama genuinely loathes conservatives. You have not also posited that he is either dumb or incapable of governing his emotions when implementing policy, nor would you; even his harshest critics concede that he’s pretty smart and critique him for being bloodless and rational when he ought to be righteously outraged at the sorts of things that righteously outrage conservatives.

            Given that a) he’s smart and capable of governing his emotions, and b) he genuinely loathes conservatives, I don’t understand how you can find rational purchase for the proposition that c) he’s willing to feed those loathed conservatives political ammunition by actually permitting a substantial security risk. Why would he do that? Simply out of spite? That’s inconsistent with a). Because he secretly hopes that there will be a terrorist attack sooner rather than later thus enabling him to declare a state of emergency and suspend critical sections of the Constitution assuming dictatorial powers unto himself? You’re not the kind of rabid, wild-eyed conspiracy theorist who would posit such a theory with sobriety, @dan-scotto . If you would scoff at such a conspiracy theory, then you should similarly scoff at the idea that Obama (or any other Democratic President, past or future) doesn’t take security seriously.

            What he did in the remarks you criticize is to call out (whether correctly or not) an appeal to dislike of the religion of Islam as a factor motivating resistance to his own political initiatives. Why would he do that? A genuine loathing of conservatives is one explanation — a more likely explanation is a genuine loathing of a certain kind of conservative, a species to which you do not actually belong because your policy priorities and cultural concerns are not strongly motivated by religious affinity.Report

          • Avatar Don Zeko says:

            What reason does Obama have to believe that his political opponents are willing to engage in good faith with him on the issue? We can go around and around here. I think there’s ample evidence that Obama took office with every intention of engaging Republicans. Then he tried to engage Republicans, and the various incentives and interests that our current political system create took over.Report

  7. Avatar SaulDegraw says:

    I concur with Chip. France’s decision to admit more refugees is to their credit.

    The Republican reaction is straight out of 1938 and the statements are paradoxes. Kaisch talks about Judeo-Christian values and forgets that “Defend the widow and the orphan” is Judeo value.Report

  8. Avatar LeeEsq says:

    Deciding to not help refugees when they need help the most seems to be a deeply immoral decision. I guess you can argue that politicians are supposed to put the needs of their country and it’s residents above those of foreigners but the Syrian refugees need help. The situation in the Middle East is deteriorating fast. Most of the reasons for are traceable back to GWB’s decision to invade Iraq unnecessarily or even respond aggressively towards 9/11, although I think that some sort of military engagement in Afghanistan was inevitable after 9/11. It seems that if the United States created the current directly or indirectly situation, we bear at least some responsibility towards it’s victims. People arguing against admitting the Syrian refugees are trying to have their cake and eat it to. They want to be able to have an active and aggressive foreign policy but not want to deal with the consequences of it.

    On a practical level, the refugees from Syria and elsewhere are not going to stop coming simply because we get tough with border control in the United States and Europe. If the situation in Syria, Afghanistan, or Central America is considered unbearable by people than they will leave in search of safety regardless of whether we like it or not.Report

    • Avatar Roland Dodds says:

      “On a practical level, the refugees from Syria and elsewhere are not going to stop coming simply because we get tough with border control in the United States and Europe.”

      That’s not entirely true. What is helping spur the migration of refugees into Europe is the fact that countries like Germany will give them a better deal than they would receive in their current locations (Turkey, Jordan, Lebanon).

      So yes, “getting tough” on our borders is not going to change the reality of the Syrian Civil War in the slightest, but there are other pull factors at play.Report

  9. Avatar greginak says:

    To step back a bit, the entire freak out over whether to take Syrian refugees is misguided. We are no more at danger today then two weeks ago. That doesn’t mean we aren’t in danger, we have been at risk for terror attacks for years, just no more now then before Paris. We have taken refugees and people who worked for us from Afghanistan and Iraq ( although likely not enough but that is a separate issue). Syrian refugees didn’t suddenly become dangerous. What has changed is the level of panic. Panic is not a good influence on decision making. Our vetting process for refugees is not short, it is about 18-24 months. We can carefully check the people in the system and keep doing so especially since the numbers we are taking aren’t huge.

    The ruckus about keeping them out is of a piece with the increasing calls to invade without thought to what we do with the land we take, the zillion huge complications ( like invading countries is a big deal especially ones with the Russians as protectors). Also that people are really confused about the difference between a conventional campaign to knock off a quasi state like ISIS which we are already supporting and an asymmetric/terror campaign. ISIS doesn’t need a state to do terror attacks. If we somehow successfully took over and ruled the ISIS area they could still conduct terror attacks.Report

  10. Over on another, Christian, site I read, one conservative commenter accused Democrats who advocate letting in refugees of merely pandering to their base, just as were Republicans who advocate not letting in refugees.. The intended implication was that he, as a Christian, was under no obligation to think better of (much less vote for) those Democratic politicians, since they were merely pandering and this tells us nothing about what they actually believe, and neither was he under any obligation to think worse of (much less vote against) those Republican politicians, for the same reason. Curiously, the implications about the two bases didn’t seem to occur to him. But it had to me: indeed, this occurred some twenty years ago, when I realized that my voting Republican is inconsistent with my understanding of Biblical Christianity.Report

  11. Avatar El Muneco says:

    Our vetting process for refugees is not short, it is about 18-24 months. We can carefully check the people in the system and keep doing so especially since the numbers we are taking aren’t huge.

    In addition, the destination is a lottery. So even if Daesh manages to smuggle a terror cell through the entire process, they’ll almost certainly be broken up and sent to a number of different states, without any prepared backing in-country.

    Why should they go through such a problematic process when they can do as in France and work with locals and/or repatriates, or just smuggle their assets through immigration on stolen/expired/fraudulent visas. You know, like every other time.

    That’s not to say that some refugees don’t sympathize with Daesh – a large number of them are fleeing Assad, and consider him to be the big evil in the situation – and we’ll have to watch that. But as mentioned above, that’s a problem we’re already dealing with, and it looks like it’s been dealt with successfully so far.

    But a way of getting trained fighters loyal to the cause into a target country, ready and willing to attack? The chance of an attack with more casualties than Eliot Rodger caused might be literally zero.Report

  12. Avatar StevetheCat says:

    So: “Americans Again Opposed to Taking In Refugees”

    Do any of you comment section warriors understand that a majority of Americans (40% of Democrats) oppose taking in more Syrian refugees?
    What is your plan to change their minds?

    I mean, your current plan seems to be the: (F**K OFF AND DIE) plan.
    In other words, they disagree with you, so they can: (F**K OFF AND DIE.)

    I believe we should accept more refugees.
    I disagree with the: (F**K OFF PLAN.)Report

    • Avatar greginak says:

      Is your biggest issue with people who want to take in refugees not being correctly persuasive or with the anti-refugee people saying horrible things about the refugees?Report

    • Avatar Stillwater says:

      What is your plan to change their minds?

      First, I’ll get everyone in the country on a conference call. Then, I’ll change their minds.Report

      • Avatar Stillwater says:

        More seriously, greg has this about right: if the argument is that letting them in amounts to “filling our country up with people that will continue to attack us,” (Rep. King’s words), then the only way to change their minds is to Stop the Fear. But right now, with Cleeks Law taking on a new role as turbocharger in driving the main players in Republican nomination clown parade to one-up each other in expressing increasingly xenophibic, borderline-fascistic policy positions, there isn’t much to do except try to calm people down. But even that, it appears, is viewed by some – even some on these threads! – as “divisive”. So let’s all hold hands together while the Freedom ship slowly sinks, yeah?Report

    • Avatar Chip Daniels says:

      I also realize that as recently as 2004 Americans were firmly opposed to same sex marriage, and anyone who thought differently should just accept that and move on.

      Public opinion changes, and is changed in no small part by what we are doing here right now.Report

      • Avatar notme says:

        I didn’t realize that pronouncements from unelected judges could change public opinion.Report

        • Avatar Burt Likko says:

          Well, of course they can. And they have. At minimum, they’ve catalyzed such changes in public opinion. That’s sort of my oeuvre here.

          Should school districts be desegregated? Most Americans said no, that’s not how things should be because of race. Then we had Brown v. Board of Education. In many quarters of the country, a hugely unpopular decision. Some folks vowed “massive resistance.” But the schools desegregated on the basis of the Court’s order. Afterwards, most Americans said that desegregation had been a good thing. Did the Brown decision change minds? Not all of them, but some.

          Should individuals have direct, unregulated access to contraception? A majority of Americans said no, that’s a matter affecting both public morality and public health. Then we had Griswold v. Connecticut. Didn’t take long after that before most people said that whether people use contraception is none of the state’s damn business. Not everyone’s mind was changed, but enough peoples’ were.

          A little less clear on Roe v. Wade and abortion, but my read on things is that a majority of Americans are pretty much on board with women being able to get abortions in the first trimester (ish) in a way that prior to that decision, it was taken simply as a matter of course that abortions were awful, immoral, and of course a state could regulate or prohibit them.

          Also not so clear just how many Americans thought anti-miscegenation laws were a good or bad thing before Loving v. Virginia, but there was clearly a split because such laws were out there and social attitudes about the advisability of “mixed-race marriages” were generally negative for a long time even after Loving. But today, there’s nary a second glance at couples of differing skin colors.

          Were the court decisions the cause of the change in political attitudes? No, of course not. But they were one of many catalysts for at least some minds to change. A certain number of people were willing to say, “Well, the Court said schools should desegregate, so we have to do it,” and did, and then they looked at the result and found that they still looked like schools. Mixed-race marriages? Turned out, they look a lot like “traditional” marriages and were entirely tolerable. Mutatis mutandis for other kinds of prominent social changes.

          Where’s the center of political gravity on prayer in public schools these days? Not everyone’s mind was changed by Engel v. Vitale, but I’m willing to wager that those who would defend and advocate rules requiring the school-led mandatory prayers in that case are pretty close to the edge of the Overton Window. (A much more defensible position is that students can pray in school if they want, on their own.)

          Nor need the decisions be ones that we today find particularly noble. Dred Scott v. Sanford brought sharply to the fore the need for a political resolution to the issue of slavery, substantially precipitating the Civil War. The spectacle of a free man being made a slave again by judicial fiat was more than some people could stomach.

          We don’t even have to have the Supreme Court weighing in on something for a case to make a difference in public opinion. Tennessee v. Scopes, in which a teacher was prosecuted and fined for teaching evolution in a public school, made the state of Tennessee a national laughingstock and was a powerful catalyst for the formerly-ridiculous proposition that evolution is science and should be taught in a science class. There are still people who want to have other things than evolution taught, but no one soberly says that science teachers should not teach evolution anymore.

          Nor need the decision always influence debate to result in the then-“liberal” school of thought prevailing. Support for the Pledge of Allegiance as a mandatory part of a public school student’s daily activities is probably greater in the wake of Elk Grove Unified School District v. Newdow than it was before.

          So yes, I think that “pronouncements from unelected judges,” specifically, “rulings on prominent cases” can and do change public opinion. It’s a part of American history, it’s part of our political life.Report

  13. I agree completely that the real problem is Obama being too combative. People wouldn’t mind his Islamic Marxist plans to flood the country with illegal immigrants and impose sharia law so much if he showed more of a sense of humor about it.Report

    • Avatar Dan Scotto says:

      It’s not really a sense of humor; it’s about viewing the opposing position charitably–or at least pretending to. In my estimation, Obama very seldom does this. And I see the president as having a greater responsibility on that front than his/her opposition, considering how singular the president’s role is in foreign affairs.Report

      • Avatar dexter says:

        @dan-scotto, Why in the name of god’s rapidly warming planet should President Obama, or as Dana Milbank calls him “Obummer”, take the opposing sides “charitably”?
        If you had a scale that measured ions I bet that the ions let loose calling the President a pejorative vastly outweigh the ones he has thrown back.Report

      • Avatar Francis says:

        You do recognize that you’re expecting completely asymmetric behavior?

        Republicans can and are expected to call the President anti-American, incompetent, a traitor, etc. without consequence. But the moment that the President responds with even a whiff of sarcasm, movement conservatives such as yourself engage in public pearl-clutching about the President’s lack of charity towards his opponents.


        Do you honestly think that the President’s sharp tongue is having any influence on the behavior of his political opponents? That if he maintained a mild, low-key affect on this issue that his opponents would back off?

        The President also has to rally his own side. If his partisans feel that he is giving ground — by not calling out stupidity when he sees it — that can weaken their resolve.

        His popularity numbers are up noticeably from 2014. Apparently the undecided middle likes the more combative approach.Report

        • Avatar Burt Likko says:

          If he maintained a mild, low-key affect on this issue, his opponents would accuse him of lacking passion, concern, or emotion and being a cold-blooded Vulcan indifferent to the preferences of “the people.”

          I don’t doubt Obama is doing what he’s doing in part to score political points, for himself especially and for Democrats generally. He is, after all, the captain of Team Blue. Someone else, likely Hillary Clinton, will take over the captainship soon enough and he wants to hand her a team with a strong hand to play. Of course he does. He’s a politician, after all, and he’s never claimed to be anything but.Report

          • Avatar Jaybird says:

            On a purely pragmatic level, is there a way to measure how many points have been scored and compare to the points scored by the evil, wicked, cheating, bad Republicans?Report

            • Avatar Burt Likko says:

              No, no, it’s the Democrats who are evil, wicked, cheating, and bad. Republicans are innocent and honest players of the game who are always the victims of their Democratic adversaries taking unfair advantage.

              Even assessment of the score itself is subject to lensing more blatantly partisan in result than that of a Czech figure skating judge.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird says:

                Is there any objective measurement of the score?

                Polls? The upcoming election? Whether we actually get 10,000 refugees here?

                Anything at all?Report

              • Avatar Jaybird says:

                If it is the case that there is not, in fact, *ANY* way to assess the score, then all that we can really do is “signal”. (And I’m using that term in the derogatory sense of it.)Report

              • Avatar Stillwater says:

                Is that what we’re doing here? Signalling? Weird, cuz in my first comment on this post I thought I was making a substantive disagreement with Dan’s post. Likewise with other comments I’ve made, including comments to you where I’ve presented (what I thought were!) substantive disagreements with your views.

                Now, given that I haven’t called Hickenlooper, I guess you’d say those comments merely reduce to signalling as well. But if so, then all political discourse just amounts to signalling, yeah? I mean, why should my discourse be viewed as anything other than a signal just because I donated some cash to the Syrian Refugee Fund? Why talk at all, if it’s just empty signalling?Report

              • Avatar Stillwater says:

                For example, Jaybird, is Burt’s comment (here) merely signalling in the derogatory sense? Is he just trying to “score points”?Report

              • Avatar Stillwater says:

                And furthermore, haven’t we gone rounds and rounds at the ole OT about how donating, voting, calling, etc – all the things you cited as evidence of a something more than mere signalling – are in fact merely signalling?

                {Man, I’m glad you reminded me of how much a dislike that “theory”.}Report

              • Avatar Chris says:

                No spade should ever be called a spade, because the best way to convince spades to become a hearts is to tell them they’re clubs, and that deep down you’re a club too. Anything else would just be hearts being sanctimonious, because that’s the only reason they’d ever call a spade a spade, obviously.

                And ya know, if the spades only become hearts six or seven years after we invade a country, kill tens of thousands, cause the deaths of hundreds of thousands, and displace millions (leading, ultimately, to the rise of some horrible group like, say, the Islamic State), all because they were spades acting like spades, then so be it. At least we weren’t mean to the spades. And besides, not being mean to them obviously worked, ’cause they’re hearts now!Report

              • Avatar Chris says:

                “The way we’ll convince campus ‘SJWs’ is by ignoring their concerns, accusing them of destroying our fundamental rights, insisting we know better than they about their lives, and mocking them.”

                Same people a few days later…

                “People reacting out of fear and xenophobia? How dare you say anything mean to them! They deserve your respect, especially if you want to convince them of anything.”Report

              • Avatar Jaybird says:

                Deserve’s got nothing to do with it.

                What’s your goal? (Also, does it work to flip that around? How about if we change some words around and talk about the ingroup vs. the outgroup?)Report

              • Avatar Chris says:

                I have been pretty consistent, I think: mocking gets no one anywhere 99.999% of the time.

                However, my tolerance for the attitudes we’re being asked to tolerate is very, very limited, because I’ve seen what it does, and I’ve seen how immune it is to reason, or even dissent. Fourteen years ago, when the people who I’m now asked to tolerate had power, they not only labeled dissent anti-American, even pro-terrorist, but they started two ground wars and endless bombing campaigns. Now that they’re not in power, they want to silence dissent by saying it’s mean? I’m not amused.Report

              • Avatar Damon says:

                ” Fourteen years ago, when the people who I’m now asked to tolerate had power, they not only labeled dissent anti-American, even pro-terrorist, but they started two ground wars and endless bombing campaigns. ”

                So let’s talk about the current admin then, who crafted a coup in Ukraine, destabilized Libya by it’s “cough” air campaign, and is in the process of doing the same in Syria, which is the direct cause for the “refugee problem” Europe is experiencing.

                I’m not seeing a lot of difference between those two administrations. Maybe none of the bastards should be tolerated.Report

              • Avatar Stillwater says:

                Jaybird at T2: What’s your goal?

                Jaybird at T1: (Though, honestly, 200 refugees/immigrants per state is a pitiful amount. Obama’s ability to parlay this into how he’s performing a brave moral act is pretty awesome.)

                Jaybird at T1: Yes, of course. I should have included a paragraph talking about how evil Republicans are. I regret the error.

                Jaybird at T1: Truly, Obama deserves another Peace Prize.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird says:

                Well, I’m of the opinion that there *ARE* ways to measure whether the ball is moving and, from there, do things that seem most likely to move it in the direction that we would like it to move in.

                But, if there are not any such ways, then what follows from that?Report

              • Avatar Stillwater says:

                Let’s bring the topic back to the OP and the issues discussed there. Presumably, you find the defense of Obama’s comments as reducing to mere signalling, but it seems to me that Dan’s proposal – that Obama shouldn’t have taken a hard-line stance on the religious purity test – constitutes something substantive.

                Maybe we disagree about that, since you apparently think that Obama should have taken a more conciliatory tone wrt the folks who want to impose those tests in order to move the ball forward. Is that right?Report

              • Avatar Jaybird says:

                I don’t find the defenses of Obama’s comments as reducing to mere signalling, but I do find the shaming of the critics to be that.

                “I argue X”
                “I disagree with you about X and here’s why.”

                “I argue X”
                “People who argue X are bad and should feel bad”Report

              • Avatar greginak says:

                Shaming??? So that is what people call disagreeing with others and pointing out things they might have missed or ignoring. Noted.Report

            • Avatar Stillwater says:

              Score a point for Jaybird!

              Truly, all sides do it.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird says:

                If we’d like to talk about “ought”, we can all preen and show our peacock feathers and talk about how much more moral we are.

                Let’s just assume that we’ve all done that.

                Is there a way to actually accomplish what we’re hoping to accomplish? If not, we can go back to preening, I guess.

                If there is, it seems important to explore whether what we’re doing is helping us do what we’re hoping to accomplish.Report

              • Avatar Stillwater says:

                Uhhh, OK.

                Why don’t you start it off by saying whether you’d like to admit Syrian refugees (or not) and how you’d make that happen (or not)?Report

              • Avatar Jaybird says:

                Let me talk about me personally.

                I totally would like to have refugees come here.

                I totally would have them get here by talking about history, talking about the refugees themselves, acknowledge some of the concerns of the critics, but then fall back to the importance of some moral principles that everybody will feel like they have to agree with.

                Would you like to admit Syrian refugees, Stillwater?Report

              • Avatar Stillwater says:

                I’m down with it.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird says:

                How would you go about doing such a thing?

                Have you even called Hickenlooper yet and told him that you support what he’s doing?

                Have you made donations?

                Are you merely mocking people insufficiently enthusiastic on a comment thread?

                It’s cool if it’s just that last one, of course! There are bad people out there and they aren’t going to shame themselves!

                Quick: Show your plumage.Report

              • Avatar Stillwater says:


                Adding: Ooops, I meant “nope” to calling, donating, refraining from mocking, etc. I haven’t done any of those things. That’s my plumage.Report

              • Avatar greginak says:

                Just to but here…but what you just said Jay, was what O has done. Not all that is in the hot quotes from Dan or the media, but he has done all that. He has acknowledged the fear and said we should have proper vetting. He has talked about the moral case for taking them in. He has done what you said.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird says:

                Funny how this post seems to belie that, Greg…

                Must be Scotto being dishonest, I guess.

                Let’s shame him some more!Report

              • Avatar greginak says:

                New rule: never disagree with a republican nor point out things they may be missing. It is mean and makes them feel bad. It just shows how evil liberals are when they do that.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird says:

                I’m neither asking for nor arguing for a “safe space”, Greg. I am, however, wondering if we should be talking about “ought” or “is” and finding that whenever I try to talk about “is”, we keep jumping back to “ought”.

                So let’s give you a chance to answer the questions.

                Would you like to admit Syrian refugees?

                How would you make that happen, if you would?Report

              • Avatar Stillwater says:

                See, I disagree. It seems to me that substance of this post takes place at the meta-level, above the nuts and bolts of policy, primarily on the level of partisanship, so the whole framing of the post is inherently party- and politically-based. Because of that, it seems like a substantive response to the post is to say what greg just said.

                The topic of this post wasn’t policy, but politics. Given that, I’m slightly surprised that you’re criticizing people for responding to Dan at the political level regarding the content of his politically-based claims.

                Now, if you wanna talk about policy, I – for one – am happy to have that discussion. But to criticize – and mock, as you’ve done – people for addressing Dan’s comments on meta-political grounds – even partisan – seems confused.

                {Noting that this comment will not be understood as intended…}Report

              • Avatar Jaybird says:

                I would absolutely agree that the substance of this post takes place on a meta-level dealing with the partisanship but it also deals with the nuts and bolts of “moving the ball”.

                There are a number of criticisms that it is possible to make of how Obama is handling the meta-issues that affect the nuts and bolts.

                The argument that it wouldn’t have mattered if Obama did handle the issues more like the opposition would like him to and, besides, he pretty much also did those things in addition to the things being criticized and, more than that, we don’t have a way to measure the nuts and bolts gives away too much.Report

          • Avatar CK MacLeod says:

            Burt Likko: He’s a politician, after all, and he’s never claimed to be anything but.

            Quite untrue. If true, it would be a devastating criticism – of Obama specifically as of any president. When he swore his oath of office, twice now, he did not swear to be a politician, but to execute the office of the presidency to the best of his ability, and to defend the Constitution against all enemies foreign and domestic. When he spoke in his inauguration, and at many, many times before taking office and since, he has, at his best moments, and to his credit, striven to represent the entire nation, not his party. Even in his to my mind regrettable and indecorous comments – both the ones Dan quoted (in Turkey) and others I’ve linked (in the Philippines) on these issues – he at least attempted to speak on behalf of American values and aspirations, not specifically Democratic Party values and aspirations.

            So, the question and the position at the root of Dan’s argument transcends particular practical matters, though also includes them. Do the President’s defenders on this issue believe that he should seek to place himself, as much as possible, and especially when speaking on foreign soil, above the partisan political fray, on behalf of the whole People? Do you, @burt-likko ?

            What makes these remarks seem particularly ill-chosen, and even ironic, in my view – and I say this as something of a fan of the President at least until September 2013, when my views on him began to sour and I began to find it increasingly difficult to defend him as a leader, rather than as merely a politician – is that his failure to represent the whole nation, and to express the unity of the American people as Head of State, not just Head of Government, takes place specifically in relation to a fraught question of national identity in multiple dimensions – morality, aspirations, ethnicity, religion, security. Whatever slings and arrows of outrageous rhetoric the President has previously withstood, on this issue in particular, at this time, in those settings, he would have been well-advised to avoid comment thread and twitter-level jibes.

            Relatedly, and contrary to @francis ‘s unevidenced assertion, the President’s approval ratings currently sit at their lowest point of the year, after a relatively steep 5-point drop, according to the most recent polling from Gallup:


            For a collection of polls, see:


            He has especially weak numbers on security and foreign affairs, and on IS specifically:


            • Avatar Burt Likko says:

              Really? The remark @dan-scotto calls out here is:

              And when I hear folks say that, well, maybe we should just admit the Christians but not the Muslims; when I hear political leaders suggesting that there would be a religious test for which a person who’s fleeing from a war-torn country is admitted, when some of those folks themselves come from families who benefited [sic] from protection when they were fleeing political persecution – that’s shameful. That’s not American. That’s not who we are. We don’t have religious tests to our compassion.

              That sounds to me like striving to represent the entire nation, not his party, at least an attempt to speak on behalf of American values and aspirations, not specifically Democratic Party values and aspirations. At least, ostensibly so.

              Implied in this is an accusation that the other “political leaders” he’s criticizing do have a religious test to their compassion. In practice, that’s a point scored for Team Blue. Being able to ostensibly be above politics, while steering things in a direction favorable to your team, strikes me as “fair play” for a President.

              Of course, there is the school of thought that “the President has a responsibility to be true to the people who voted for him and to put people in office who are sympathetic to his positions. Otherwise, what’s the point of having elections?” The President that quote was about had similar approval ratings at a similar point in his Presidency thanks to the dragging-on of wars, as did his predecessor thanks to his crisis of honesty fueling a divisive impeachment, and as did his predecessor thanks to a recession following a broken prominent campaign promise, and his predecessor thanks to Iran-Contra and his predecessor thanks to the oil shock recessions. You’ve got to go all the way back to Ford to get a President whose late term didn’t see lower approval ratings than when he started, and that’s because Ford started out with his deck against him. Go back to Ford’s predecessor and that’s about the ultimate case of low Presidential approval ratings due to the fact that the man was a damned criminal, and his predecessor had low approval ratings at the end of his Presidency because Vietnam, and we don’t get to know what would have happened to his predecessor because he was assassinated before we ever got to the latter portion of his term, and his predecessor also had low approval ratings at the end of his term thanks, again, to a recession and a failure to control the red-meat-eating elements within his own party.

              Presidents fade and stumble towards the end of their terms. Obama is approaching, if not past, the expiration of his use-by date, as seems to happen to all Presidents. Like all end-of-term Presidents, the best thing he can do at this point is set the table well for his successor.Report

              • Avatar CK MacLeod says:


                You didn’t answer the question I put to you directly. I repeat:

                Do the President’s defenders on this issue believe that he should seek to place himself, as much as possible, and especially when speaking on foreign soil, above the partisan political fray, on behalf of the whole People? Do you?

                You also return to the comments Dan quotes, but ignore the ones to which I referred. Here’s the link again: And, for your convenience, here is how the writer reported the President’s words:

                “We are not well served when, in response to a terrorist attack, we descend into fear and panic. We don’t make good decisions if it’s based on hysteria or an exaggeration of risks,” Obama said during an economic summit in the Philippines. “I cannot think of a more potent recruitment tool for ISIL than some of the rhetoric that’s been coming out of here during the course of this debate.”

                He added that the terrorist organization “seeks to exploit the idea that there’s war between Islam and the West, and when you start seeing individuals in positions of responsibility suggesting Christians are more worthy of protection than Muslims are in a war-torn land that feeds the ISIL narrative.”

                Obama also mocked Chris Christie for his refusal to accept even orphaned Syrians under the age of five (though he didn’t mention him by name). “Apparently they’re scared of widows and orphans coming into the United States of America as part of our tradition of compassion,” Obama said. “At first they were worried about the press being too tough on them in during debates. Now they’re worried about three-year-old orphans. That doesn’t sound very tough to me.”

                I already conceded that the President “at least attempted to speak on behalf of American values and aspirations, not specifically Democratic Party values and aspirations.” Some of us believe that the content and pointedness of his remarks defeated the attempt – or even made it seem all the more hypocritical.Report

              • Avatar Burt Likko says:

                Short answer: it depends on context I can’t readily determine, even after I RTFA. The context that seems most probable to me would make his remarks acceptable.

                Admittedly, it’s a harder call for me to make because I basically agree with the argument: Syrian refugees do not pose an appreciable security threat to the United States. If I thought the Chris Christie side of the argument were superior, I’d have an easier time saying “He’s wrong on the merits, and furthermore, we Americans don’t criticize one another politically when we’re on foreign soil.”

                Instead, you ask me to sign off on “Obama is right on the merits, but he still shouldn’t criticize his political opponents when he’s on foreign soil.” A harder (and therefore more interesting) proposition.

                Only I’m not sure that’s always 100% right, at least when it comes to questions of foreign policy, and specifically when it comes to questions of foreign policy which are specifically the focus of the reason the President is conducting business abroad in the first place. In such a circumstance, the President is the leader of the country, the leader of the government, and it is his voice that is the voice of the nation on the matter under discussion. Obama is in the right to announce what the policy of the United States regarding Syrian refugees will be. To a degree, that’s what he was doing: announcing that we will accept refugees without regard to their religion.

                Note that Republican critics of Obama’s policy are not on foreign soil, and are for the most part not holding governmental offices vested with any overt foreign policy authority. The Governor of Arkansas, on paper, has fish all to say about American foreign policy. A Member of Congress, a little more, especially depending on that Member’s committee assignments. But none of them are the President of the United States.

                Obama, on the other hand, is the President. So yes, he speaks for all of America. If it appears to him to be the case that America is closely divided on a political issue, and he favors a particular policy on one or the other side of that political divide, there is no barrier, either formal or informal, requiring him to demur on pursuit of that policy until Congress shakes out a resolution. Especially if Congress does not appear substantially likely to ever shake out a resolution in the first place.

                Missing from the New York Magazine article you link is whether the context of his remarks was within the content of a speech he delivered or his own, unprompted comments to the press — or, if the context of those remarks was in response to a question put to him by someone in the press (possibly the foreign press) about Republican resistance to his announced policy. This second context seems more likely to have been the case.

                If a reporter from Le Monde asks the President, “The other party is challenging your policy here, what are you going to say back to them?” then a response of “Never you mind, Mr. French-Newspaper-Reporter, we Americans are going to work out whatever differences we might have amongst ourselves and speak to the rest of the world with one voice and pursue a unified policy which represents the consensus of our democratically elected leaders,” isn’t really a response at all. It’d be an admission that he, the President, is not really the guy who speaks for the United States of America.

                In a case where he’s responding to a question that brings up the existence of a substantial disunity of opinion in the body politic, a divide upon which the President has a definite side, the right response should be along the lines of, “This is my policy, and it’ll be the policy of the United States until and unless Congress affirmatively and properly changes it, to the extent it has any power to do so at all.”

                Can he appropriately go further and say, “If Congress does try to change it, I will argue [X] to them,” where in this case [X] is a mocking, condescending “[T]hey’re worried about three-year-old orphans. That doesn’t sound very tough to me.”? In the context of responding to a direct question about how he will negotiate a political dispute, yes. In the context of directly announcing American policy, no.

                So, if Obama brought these issues up on his own, unforced and unprompted, then I’d concede that such a thing would be a good deal more unseemly and partisan than if he’s answering a question from the press. I’d be more critical of his form if he initiated the maneuver on his own than I would be if he had been answering a question.Report

              • Avatar CK MacLeod says:

                Good @burt-likko , I don’t think you see how much ground – for all intents and purposes the entirety of the political high ground – you cede with that answer, which, I believe, has to be taken as a “no.”Report

              • Avatar greginak says:

                I’m unclear. So Burt has ceded the political high ground to who? The people who are suggesting if we let Syrians in it will destroy the country or Islamify us or they all want to kill us or etc? Those people have the high ground?Report

              • Avatar CK MacLeod says:

                When a president evacuates the high ground in our system, no one occupies it. What happens next is the topic for another discussion. I think we have already come pretty far if it’s clear that this president’s allies and those to his left, as far as this conversation are concerned, have no interest in this traditional concept of the presidency at all.

                I suppose that, if George W Bush, while traveling overseas sometime in 2007, and responding to questions form the press, had called Obama and like-minded Democrats un-American cowards for opposing his Iraqi Surge policy ( a “question… of foreign policy… specifically the focus of the reason the President is conducting business abroad in the first place”) – then those on the left would consider it fair game or normal political give-and-take, and any statements to the contrary, any crying foul, would just be posturing.Report

              • then those on the left would consider it fair game or normal political give-and-take

                No doubt. And those on the right would give it the same amount of credence Dan’s point has gotten from those on the left. That’s how it works.

                And I’m presuming that no one who feels that politics stops at the water’s edge has anything but contempt for the GOP invitation to Netanyahu to trash the president and one of his major diplomatic initiatives in front of Congress. (I lied. I wish I could presume that, but I don’t at all.)Report

              • Avatar CK MacLeod says:

                Whether or not “that’s how it works” really, there might still be questions as to whether that should be how it works, or how long and at what cost it can go on working.

                As for Netanyahu, “It was worse than a crime: It was a mistake.” However, last time I checked, Capitol Hill was still inside the water’s edge.Report

              • Avatar Burt Likko says:

                I’m with @greginak here: if the president east to occupy the moral high ground here, it is not because he relinquished that position. It would be because he was pushed. the push comes when he gets put on the spot about a political issue.

                Assume I am correct that he was put on the spot bya foreign journalist reacting to news from the states about GOP resistance to accepting refugees. What should Obama have said to keep the moral high ground? What @dan-scotto wrote in the OP? Something else?Report

              • Avatar CK MacLeod says:

                You can’t think of anything he might have said other than to call out particular political figures (in all but name) and accuse them of un-manly cowardice, moral depravity, and recruiting for the enemy?

                Think about that: He stood before the assembled microphones and cameras and told the world that, in his opinion, his political adversaries back home – the people running Congress, representing majority opinion on the particular issue, and maintaining a reasonable chance to take the presidency next year – were the world’s best recruiters for IS… and all those other things.

                They weren’t only unusually indecent remarks for Obama. They were unusually stupid. They make me wonder what really goes on in his mind about the decisions he’s made, and the horrors of Iraq, Libya, and especially Syria. It’s quite a cross to bear, even if rationally he knows he was hardly the only author of catastrophe, and that his alternatives were radically constrained by history, including his own history.

                As for what else he might have said, I think Dan does, in fact, provide a good template. In prior comments on this thread I explained why I think so, and gave additional indications as to how a president might have chosen to speak instead.

                Maybe it’s a strain, but for me your “on the spot by foreign journalist” excuse introduces an additional irony, since one of the insults the President stooped to make had to do with Republicans cowering before journalists in relation to their debate. Allowing oneself to be pushed from the high ground does not say much in favor of one’s fitness for leadership. My remnant sympathy for the President, and my appreciation for his conduct in office prior to these remarks, makes me want to attribute his error to jet lag or some other human foible, not to fearsome scrutiny by a foreign reporter.Report

              • Avatar Stillwater says:

                accuse them of un-manly cowardice, moral depravity, and recruiting for the enemy?

                You’re not talking about the OP anymore, are you…Report

              • Avatar Burt Likko says:

                Well, it’s okay for a discussion to shift focus over time and we’re still on the appropriateness, or lack thereof, of Obama’s statements. It seems CK’s concerns about Obama here are rather broader than those articulated in the OP, but let’s keep the focus on Obama,

                One of the things at play here is that Obama thinks — and I think he’s right — that these Republicans are scared of a shadow. It’s not a reasonable fear. It’s not a substantial enough risk to be worth modifying policy against. He can surely say that, can’t he? “I assess our existing processes as entirely adequate to identify any actually dangerous person and so there’s no reason to withhold our charity to people in dire need of help.”

                Well, if we’re going to say that statement is in bounds, then it’s surely also in bounds to respond to a question about a rival politician questioning the efficacy of existing security screens to say, “That concern is misplaced. We’ve got this.”

                At what point on this spectrum does the line get crossed?

                And does it matter if these rival politicians are ACTUALLY fearmongering for political advantage while cynically knowing that if they were in power they’d be doing pretty much exactly the same thing Obama is doing? (Because that’s what, IMO, is really going on.) worse, If his rivals are intentionally and overtly lying, does Obama have to pretend they have a real point to make while somehow also pretending that there is no real political dispute?Report

              • Avatar Stillwater says:

                Oh, doing so is fair and fine, of course. I’m just objecting to the shifting argument structure without a concomitant acknowledgment that a shift has in fact occurred. And I’m trying to stay out of the subthread because not only do I agree with everything you’ve said, and concede that you say it with much more clarity and focus than I could, but that you’re infinitely more patient in dealing with the ever shifting argument structure than I am. 🙂Report

              • One of the things at play here is that Obama thinks — and I think he’s right — that these Republicans are scared of a shadow. It’s not a reasonable fear. It’s not a substantial enough risk to be worth modifying policy against. He can surely say that, can’t he?

                You’re coming very close to the rhetoric already discussed exhaustively above (I mean in relation to the “contradiction” discussed with Chris). If it’s important to screen the refugees, and that screening has protected us from a substantial threat – as Chris informs us “everyone” believes – then it is not an “unreasonable fear” to express concern about doubling the number of refugees to be admitted at a moment when IS appears to be escalating its international activities The concern may not, on further analysis, prove to be a sufficiently well-grounded concern, but, if polls are to be trusted, some 64% of Americans share it – so a president might want to address it forthrightly and comprehensively – and patiently – before accusing tens or perhaps hundreds of millions of his fellow citizens, by proxy, of being un-American cowards “afraid of a shadow,” and of aiding and comforting the enemy.

                There might be a time and a place for “tough talking” the People. This episode does not strike me as a very well-managed effort.

                As for lines and spectrums, I’m not sure why you have any difficulty discerning the chasm between

                That concern is misplaced. We’ve got this.


                Apparently they’re scared of widows and orphans coming into the United States of America as part of our tradition of compassion… At first they were worried about the press being too tough on them in during debates. Now they’re worried about three-year-old orphans. That doesn’t sound very tough to me.

                You then answer your own question:

                And does it matter if these rival politicians are ACTUALLY fearmongering for political advantage while cynically knowing that if they were in power they’d be doing pretty much exactly the same thing Obama is doing? (Because that’s what, IMO, is really going on.)

                According to your own logic, it doesn’t in fact matter at all. The policies will be approximately the same regardless of who is in power. So how would it serve the American interest or the presidency to engage in such demeaning and unseemly invective as we have been discussing?

                If his rivals are intentionally and overtly lying, does Obama have to pretend they have a real point to make while somehow also pretending that there is no real political dispute?

                The people criticizing Obama in excessive terms are not in fact “his rivals” or his “rival politicians” until he brings himself down to their level. Before then, he is President of the United States of America, occupant of the highest office in the land, held in trust for the entire nation, and those other people are either holders of lesser offices or private citizens. He does not have to acknowledge them at all, if they are nothing more than contemptible liars.

                If, on the other hand, your opinion about those men and women as well as of the underlying issues is only one of 300 million opinions, and there is strong disagreement with you on the part of many of your fellow citizens, and possibly more of a basis to the other side’s concerns than you are willing or able to acknowledge, then it is Obama’s business, in his role as president of a constitutional republic, to confront that body of opinion, discover its true shape beneath whatever un-serious where not dangerous demagogic rhetoric, and lead it in the right direction and to the best possible purpose.

                Dan and I, in our different ways, based on our own observations of politics and history, have outlined a different approach than the one evident in these remarks we have been discussing. Dan chose to focus on a milder example, but it was still enough, I think, to demonstrate his thesis – which helps, I believe, to explain the rise of figures like Trump (as I indicated in passing). The approach Dan recommends also happens to be the approach that Obama himself has previously adopted – however imperfectly – and for which he was rewarded politically, up to a point. As I said, I expect him to return to form or to try to, though his behavior suggests that he has himself concluded that the book may well have already been written on his presidency. If so, then that’s all the more reason to go out on a high note rather than in this way.Report

  14. Avatar Barry says:

    “Last fall, a critic of Christie described Christie’s default political stance as “instinctive pugilistic communitarianism.” This is an apt description of what Christie tries to do in political controversies: He seeks to act as the “protector” of the American people, placing himself between them and whatever he deems to be a threat.”

    That’s a lot of words to say ‘A-hole’.Report

  15. Avatar Chip Daniels says:

    The right can’t seem to make up their minds if Obama is a weak-kneed coward who could never stand up to Putin with Leaderly Churchillian Leadership, or if he is a cruel bully who uses uncivil language and sends the entire Beltway to the fainting couch.

    He said that religious tests are un-American?

    The vapors!Report

    • Avatar Stillwater says:

      The way to reconcile that inherent contradiction is recognize that the Kenyan Muslim Alinskyite is a shape-shifter intent on destroying our country from within. Poof! Just like … it all makes sense!Report

      • Avatar Chip Daniels says:

        So he’s like Keyser Sose, tricking everyone into thinking he is a gimpy coward, when he is in fact the evil mastermind.

        Who says things that hurt conservative’s feelings.

        Damn, I wish he could run for a 3rd term.Report

        • Avatar Stillwater says:

          Who says things that hurt conservative’s feelings.

          Do you really need more evidence than *that* that something truly insidious is going on here?!!?Report

          • Avatar Chip Daniels says:

            Maybe conservatives just need a safe space, a bubble if you will, where the savage uncivil tone could not penetrate.

            Maybe a quiet room with videos of Japanese Americans being herded into Manzanar, or Operation Wetback could be played.Report

    • Avatar notme says:

      Ive been thinking about this and wonder if that makes us Americans the “indians?” I hope not since we know what happened to them.Report

      • Avatar CK MacLeod says:

        I’d say our immune systems are better conditioned to defend against the new Pilgrims’ microbes, plus there are more of us, better-armed, than there were Native Americans.

        However, the correct response, I believe, perhaps already in HuffPo or Salon if they’ve been on the job, is to castigate the sellout Obama for comparing widows and orphans to fanatically religious proto-genocidal settler-colonists.Report

      • Avatar Chip Daniels says:

        Really, you can’t imagine any other alternate futures, other than Fortress White People’s America, or a genocidal existential threat?

        The concept of an America that is generous and peaceful, prosperous and tolerant of many cultures is beyond imagining?Report