After many long months of deep ideological, cultural and political struggles between Democrats and Republicans, Americans awoke to a new, more reconciled day. Even though it was only a handful of weeks ago that the U.S. faced a menacing fiscal cliff, exposing once again the deep polarization within American society and among its lawmakers, U.S. President Barack Obama began his second term in the White House on an optimistic note, with both political camps ostensibly willing to cooperate and find a legislative common ground.
I am referring to Obama's efforts to revive the immigration reform plan and to recruit bipartisan support for it. For the president, this move is meant to further cement his status among his Hispanic constituents, who gave him substantial electoral support in the last election (72 percent).
The basis of the reform plan rests on institutionalizing a path for some 11 million illegal immigrants in the U.S. that could lead most of them (should they meet the criteria) to the coveted goal of obtaining U.S. citizenship. There is no argument that giving the influential, electorally important Hispanic minority the option of naturalization accurately reflects the president's vision of a new, multi-cultural America. In addition, a rapid breakthrough on this issue, which the president has adopted as a top priority, could further enhance Obama's popularity and put him in a good position to advance his agenda when facing future challenges on the legislative trail.
While the Democrats see this reform as an opportunity to leave a meaningful, pluralistic mark on the ethnic and social character of the nation and simultaneously earn political points, the Republicans need this reform as a means of breaking through the ethnic isolation and alienation in which they have been trapped recently. The leaders of the Republican camp hope that this will be the key to reconnecting the party with the contemporary American experience, including its plethora of minorities and diverse, multifaceted cultural worlds.
After the all-out war many of the Republican lawmakers waged against illegal immigration (resulting in such draconian legislation as the 2010 "Arizona Law") caused a major rift between the Republican Party and most of the Hispanic community, contributing greatly to the defeat of the Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney in November, it is no big surprise that the party is now in the midst of some deep soul-searching. The apparent softening of the Republican stance on immigration is the obvious start of a lesson-learning process.
It is true that there are still quite a few obstacles on the path to new legislation, not least of which is the Republican demand that the path to naturalization be accompanied by closer monitoring of the Mexican border. However, the fact that most of the Republican voices are aligning themselves with the president on this profoundly important issue signals the possibility that pragmatic thinking — the trademark of the American political system until the 1990s — is making a comeback.
After two decades of ideological disparity and cultural war between the conservative and liberal camps, and after the devastating blow the Republicans suffered in the last election, key representatives of the conservative House majority are appearing willing to abandon their ideological purity in efforts to situate themselves in positions of greater power within wider constituencies. All that is left for us to do is to wait and see whether this cooperative legislation effort will serve as the harbinger of change in the U.S.'s political and legislative arena.