Steve Rose

President Obama should move to the center on two key issues

President Barack Obama, who rarely — if ever — has moved to the center, as did President Bill Clinton so effectively, has two chances now to do just that, and actually get something done in this “Year of Action,” as Obama has proclaimed.

Both of these have been the subject of previous columns, but when I wrote them, it was wishful thinking. Now, we may get a couple of big-time signatures.

The first is the Keystone XL oil pipeline.

This was a no-brainer, but Obama could not or would not disappoint his liberal base. He has stalled his approval, but a recent report from the State Department makes it all but inevitable that the president will sign off on this major project, infusing more than $3 billion into the economy, creating thousands of jobs and making America more energy-independent. The recent Nebraska court ruling against the pipeline will stall it, but not kill it.

There never was a valid excuse for not approving the pipeline. As I wrote before, and now it is confirmed, it is a fact that the oil extracted from Canada’s tar sands were going to get transported one way or the other, whether by rail or pipeline. Why not by pipeline?

The Sierra Club and other environmentalists have been putting extraordinary pressure on the president to turn it down. Their logic has craters, not holes.

Simply put, environmentalists want to deny the Keystone Pipeline, because — on principle — they want nothing to do with our current primary energy source, fossil fuels. Never mind that wind and solar and other alternative energy sources are not ready for prime time. They would rather stick their heads in the sand (tar sand) than address the best way to deal with fuel that is being tapped and transported one way or the other.

The State Department has done Obama a huge favor, giving him an out for disappointing the green folks. The report basically said the Keystone Pipeline would have virtually no effect on climate change.

This is just the excuse Obama needed. He was in a jam with Canada and did not want to jeopardize relations. He wanted the boost to the economy.

And four Democratic senators in oil states are facing tough re-election bids, where Keystone has become a major rallying cry of Republican opponents. Obama could not afford to lose these seats, or he could lose Democratic control of the Senate.

When I wrote about the other issue where Obama could move to the center, many readers wrote to either scold me or tell me I was dreaming. What I proposed is that the 11 million illegal immigrants be given some sort of legal status such as permanent residency but not citizenship.

It was obvious Republicans were not going to approve amnesty and citizenship for two big reasons. One, the tea party wing would go ballistic and vote out any Republican who voted for it. And two, why would Republicans want to commit suicide by giving citizenship to 11 million potential voters, who would vote overwhelmingly Democratic?

Until now, this idea of non-citizenship with legal status has been a no-go with Obama’s supporters. They have said this is non-negotiable. But lately, there may have been some movement, and the president himself has said he has not ruled it out.

As an addendum, it has been proposed that illegal immigrants can get citizenship if they go to the back of the line, learn English, pay back taxes and perhaps fulfill other prerequisites.

Of course, securing the border comes first, as a part of any compromise.

Speaker of the House John Boehner has announced it is highly unlikely immigration reform will happen this year. Indeed, it is unlikely to be addressed until after the 2014 midterm elections. But Republicans must eventually come together on a solution which will require compromise on both sides.

Obama would like to go down in history for more than Obamacare and ending two wars. Here are two ripe issues for his legacy that would not only expand his record but also demonstrate that he was a president capable of moving beyond lofty rhetoric to getting things done.