SAN DIEGO — Even in the surreal world of politics, there are those gimmicks that are so cynical and so absurd that they are truly offensive. It’s in this file that you’ll find the story about Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel going on a 24-hour fast to show support for immigration reform efforts in Congress.
The first thing you have to understand is that fasting for immigration reform is – for those on the left – the hip thing to do. A number of Democratic House members have joined in sympathy fasts for a group of individuals who have been fasting in a tent on the Mall in Washington to pressure House Republicans to pass a bill that would give the undocumented a path to citizenship.
Not for weeks at a time, mind you. Let’s not get carried away. The members of Congress fasted for 24 hours. While some will call that sort of thing courageous, others call it a cleansing diet.
The latest members of Congress to jump on the bandwagon include Sens. Robert Menendez and Cory Booker of New Jersey. You can easily see why this stunt is so attractive to Democrats. They get a chance to use the immigration issue to hurt Republicans without really doing anything on their own to help the cause of immigration reform – such as writing a law the GOP might accept. They also get another opportunity to fool Latino voters, and other supporters of immigration reform, into thinking that they’re on their side when they’re really just engaging in good ol’ fashioned political theater.
Even so, Emanuel is a special case. He should not be allowed to get away with these games because he doesn’t come to the immigration debate with clean hands. Far from it.
You see, before he was elected “Mayor Emanuel,” he was “Congressman Emanuel” and then-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s top lieutenant. He worked to keep the immigration issue off the Democratic agenda.
This was no small thing, since Democrats controlled both houses of Congress from 2007 to 2009. They could have passed immigration reform with the support of a sympathetic Republican president named George W. Bush. Yet, as was very well reported at the time, Emanuel decided that immigration was not worth the trouble. He once referred to it as the “third rail” of American politics. He even tried to get support among his Democratic colleagues for a dreadful bill sponsored by Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner, R-Wis., that sought to make into a felony the simple act of being in the United States without the proper documents. This way, Democrats would be inoculated at re-election time from the accusation of being “pro-amnesty.”
Emanuel was just getting warmed up. When he left Congress to become President Obama’s chief of staff, Emanuel helped put comprehensive immigration reform on the back burner, fortify the border with more fencing and border patrol agents, and rack up a record number of deportations.
The immigration debate doesn’t boil down simply to “good guys” and “bad guys.” But if it did, make no mistake, Rahm Emanuel would be one of the bad guys. Democrats who oppose immigration reform tend to hide from the issue because they fear a backlash, cynically use the movement to serve their interests or coddle organized labor by killing reform because they believe that immigration hurts the working class. For Emanuel, it seems to be a little of all three.
Now, as mayor of Chicago, Emanuel is trying to remake himself as a friend of the immigration reform movement.
“On the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe, we join people from all over the country who are making an incredible sacrifice to remind our leaders what is at stake in the fight for immigration reform,” he said in a statement announcing his fast, which was joined by several Chicago aldermen. “We are sending a clear message to Congress that the time is now for comprehensive immigration reform, it just cannot wait any longer.”
What chutzpah! We can’t wait any longer? Who is he kidding? For years, Latinos and other immigration reform advocates have waited for Emanuel to do the right thing on the issue – and for the right reasons. They’re still waiting.
I’ve lost my appetite for these kinds of hollow stunts. If Emanuel really wants to help the cause of immigration reform, and benefit the country as a whole, what he really needs to give up for 24 hours is the spreading of horse manure.
Ruben Navarrette is a columnist for U-T San Diego. Reach him at email@example.com.