On Friday morning President Obama spoke to an audience of young Mexicans at the National Museum of Anthropology in Mexico City. The White House has posted the text of the speech here.
Obama is full of praise for Mexico. He “celebrates Mexico’s ancient civilizations and their achievements in arts and architecture, medicine and mathematics.” He praises Mexico’s modern art. He appreciates Mexico’s blend of cultures and traditions. At greater length he also lauds Mexico’s political and economic evolution. In Mexico he sees a country full of dynamic progress.
Obama’s praise of Mexico contrasts with his attitude toward the United States. “Some Americans only see the Mexico that is depicted in sensational headlines of violence and border crossings.” That criticism is leavened by an acknowledgement that “some Mexicans think that America disrespects Mexico, or thinks that America is trying to impose itself on Mexican sovereignty, or just wants to wall ourselves off.” Obama asserts that “it’s time for us to put the old mind-sets aside,” but he brought his old mindset to Mexico City. (Incidentally, it’s time for us to put the dash in “mindset” aside.)
Obama expresses his understanding that “much of the root cause of violence that’s been happening here in Mexico, for which many so Mexicans have suffered, is the demand for illegal drugs in the United States.” And that’s not all: “[W]e also recognize that most of the guns used to commit violence here in Mexico come from the United States.” In this context Obama omitted any mention of Fast & Furious. While he was interested in criticizing the United States, he wasn’t much interested in self-criticism.
Obama recognizes a responsibility not to address illegal immigration into the United States directly: “We recognize we’ve got work to do on security issues, but we also recognize our responsibility — as a nation that believes that all people are created equal — we believe it’s our responsibility to make sure that we treat one another with dignity and respect. And this includes recognizing how the United States has been strengthened by the extraordinary contributions of immigrants from Mexico and by Americans of Mexican heritage.” Here Obama conferred the highest praise that resides in his lexicon: “[W]ithout the strong support of Latinos, including so many Mexican Americans, I would not be standing today as President of the United States. (Applause.) That’s the truth.” Thank you, Mexico!
Which brings Obama to a discussion of immigration reform before an audience of young Mexicans. Recall, while on this subject, that Mexico itself is a country that allows essentially no legal immigration. However evolved Mexico is now, it hasn’t reached the highest stage of evolution toward which we are tending. Obama criticizes current American immigration law as insufficiently family friendly (!) and insufficiently hospitable to those here illegally in our midst (!):
And so given that is Americas [sic] heritage, given that we share a border with Mexico, given ties that run back generations, it is critical that the United States recognize the need to reform our immigration system — (applause) — because we are a nation of laws, but we’re also a nation of immigrants. Like every nation we have a responsibility to ensure that our laws are upheld. But we also know that, as a nation of immigrants, the immigration system we have in the United States right now doesn’t reflect our values. It separates families when we should be reuniting them. It’s led to millions of people to live in the shadows. It deprives us of the talents of so many young people — even though we know that immigrants have always been the engine of our economy, starting some of our greatest companies and pioneering new industries.
This is a bizarre and yet characteristic Obama speech. When Jean Yarbrough renders her (harsh) judgment on Theodore Roosevelt in Theodore Roosevelt and the American Tradition, she tempers it with an acknowledgement of Roosevelt’s rejection of hyphenated-Americanism, Roosevelt’s insistence upon assimilation, “[a]nd, finally, Roosevelt’s patriotism and love of country[.]” Although Obama draws inspiration from TR, Obama’s Mexico City speech really sharpens the contrast with him.
And my friend Clark Griffith adds an historical view.