Sunday, June 29, 2014

Exceptionalism and legacy

For all we know, most people at some time think about their legacy. Will I be remembered? By whom? For how long? For what?  This thinking has to occupy political leaders, especially in the late innings. And what if you are the first mixed race leader of a major power? Speculation over Barak Obama's thinking on this question will only grow as he gets closer to leaving office.

Can legacy-mindedness co-exist with electoral and party politics? Churchill saw job #1 as defeating Hitler; he seemingly paid less attention to his re-election prospects. Lincoln focused on saving the Union and finally making it a non-slavery nation; he seemingly was less focused on his own survival.

President Obama may not be listening but I have an idea how he can enter the pantheon of former leaders who have left a legacy. But and it will cost his party politically.

Lead the charge for serious immigration reform. Get your party (many kicking and screaming) to follow you; get enough of the opposition (also kicking and screaming) to your side. We are talking about real legacy and real leadership and real change here.

We hear that inequality is the "defining issue" of our time. Let's recognize that the greatest inequalities are across international borders. Many millions are born in civil war-torn hell holes. Others find themselves in penitentiary societies. What can be done about the real injustices and inequalities?  Poor people abroad know the answer: find a way to get into the U.S. or another advanced Western nation. Pathetic stories of unsuccessful border crossings, drownings, kidnappings are everywhere -- lately focusing on young kids at the U.S. southern border.

Paul Collier Exodus: How Migration is Changing Our World does a good job of convincing us that none of this is simple. Bryan Caplan at does a fine job making the moral argument, as do the people at Expanding the talent pool is the economic no-brainer.

None of this is simple. Borders will have to be "secured" in the sense that entry is orderly and monitored to screen the inevitable trouble-makers. But the immigration status quo makes no sense (and satisfies no one). We have the pretense of border control side-by-side with smuggling, violence and great suffering. The way forward involves leadership and risk-taking like we have not seen in some years. Perhaps the huge gap between the expectations of the Obama campaign and the performance of the Obama team suggests to them that there is also a huge opportunity to finally rise to the occasion.

American exceptionalism can mean that unprecedented generosity and tolerance gain from and, in turn, fortify economic strength.