Tuesday, February 9, 2021

Joe Did What? Abolishing ICE

All respect to Atkins, but as I say keep saying I don't think we should be that surprised. It's the mistake of taking the ideological spectrum, left to right, as a literally existing phenomenon with an unambiguous place for every politician to inhabit, and then trying to predict what Biden is going to do on the basis of his place—as measured, say, by his DW-Nominate score as a senator, which put him well to the right of Senator Obama, who was well to the right of Senator Clinton, who was well to the right of Senator Warren, who is to the right of almost nobody—and it just isn't a smart way to look at Biden, because it's so distant, I believe, from the way he thinks.

As illustrated perhaps in one of my favorites so far in those "Joe did what?" moments, the rules he's imposing on Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), requiring them to stop hounding basically harmless members of the undocumented community

Agents will no longer seek to deport immigrants for crimes such as driving under the influence and assault, and will focus instead on national security threats, recent border crossers and people completing prison and jail terms for aggravated felony convictions.

and adding up to a concerted attack on the independence they enjoyed under Trump:

Agents seeking to arrest fugitives outside of jails and prisons will need prior approval from the agency’s director in Washington justifying the decision while explaining how the enforcement action “constitutes an appropriate allocation of limited resources,” according to a draft memo circulating at the agency.

Inside the agency, it looks extremely "left"—

“They’ve abolished ICE without abolishing ICE,” said one distraught official who spoke on the condition of anonymity because that person was not authorized to speak to the media. “The pendulum swing is so extreme. It literally feels like we’ve gone from the ability to fully enforce our immigration laws to now being told to enforce nothing.”

—and I think that's a valid assessment, if that's the way you want to look at it, kind of the way if Lincoln had pushed through a minimum wage and health and retirement benefits for the enslaved you might say he'd hit on a sneaky way of realizing the abolitionist slogan without an abolition proclamation (I guess they'd also have to have a right to reject any proposed sale, or opt for free agency). But I don't think that's how Biden got there, starting from the slogan. Rather, I think he started with a problem, of terrorized communities and families torn apart, and cut straight to the chase of what to do about it, which was to call the goons off.

A Problem Solving technique, if you like, but not the way the congressional Problem Solvers work, or the way Biden worked when he was in the Senate, for that matter, because that's generally constrained by the need to construct a majority, which always works against radicalism, or going straight to the root (radix) of the problem, and in favor of "centrism", or the effort to find the least disturbing solution, or the one that has the fewest effects that will upset your opposition, which will be the one with the fewest ideological "left" and "right" markers—and obviously not the best solution, because it ends up not being aimed directly at the problem. But it is in part the way Biden worked as vice president, when he cut to the chase on marriage equality, or when he took public satisfaction in the Affordable Care Act being a Big Fucking Deal.

That approach, which might be said to equate with classic American pragmatism, seems to be intuitive with Biden, as it wasn't with Obama (who kept doing all the congressional hedging on his own in the White House without even waiting for the Republicans to make demands) but was with Franklin Roosevelt: impatient with theory ("left" or "right") when you could be taking care of people and focusing on how do you get that thing done. All the more so as he comes into office, like FDR, in a moment of really profound crisis, when there isn't the time to come up with an attractive body of theory. 

The crisis creates a structural situation in which it becomes possible to legislate pragmatically, as the crisis did in 1933. Which in turn favors "left" solutions, because they're the best. A Roosevelt or a Biden ends up doing "left" things without being a leftist at all, because they're not concerning themselves with positioning, they just want it to work, and what works in the case of Covid relief and ending structural racism and all of these things we need to be dealing with right now, as in the case of the Great Depression, is taking advice from leftists.

It would be really nice if legislators could work that way all the time, instead of processing everything into Velveeta the way our Problem Solvers do, but in the meantime we should be enjoying this glimpse of how it would work, brought on not just by the judicious and sympathetic temperament of our new president, but also by the situation itself.

This is a thing that exists and I'm not too comfortable with that.

Meanwhile, don't know if this anecdote is representative of what's happening with the Customs and Border Patrol, but it filled me with joy:

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