Sometimes good politics makes good policy, and the president combined both on Friday. His executive order that allows 800,000 immigrants brought into the country illegally by their parents to avoid deportation and to legally work was a brilliant move. In terms of policy. And politics.
The fundamental decency of the decision is undeniable. Consider. Hours after the story broke, a Mexican-born student at the Ann Richards School for Young Women Leaders, a public school in Austin, fired off an e-mail to her principal.
"Does this mean we can go to college? Does this mean we can get scholarships?"
The question was asked by a young woman leader who will begin her high-school senior year in September. At the end of that year, opportunities available to most graduates of U.S. high schools were foreclosed to her. Until Friday, when the president signed an order that gave this kid a future she didn't have when she went to bed Thursday night.
This particular young woman, a bright and ambitious child of struggling immigrant parents who brought her here when she was much younger, is one of many kids who until Friday were living in the shadows.
How dark the shadows? High school principals in the Southwest, where Hispanic immigrant populations are concentrated, have to weigh the consequences of letting an undocumented immigrant child get on a bus to take a school trip.
A marching-band trip from New Mexico to Arizona, where local police can take actions that lead to deportation, represents a risk. A high-school football team traveling from San Antonio to El Paso requires the busload of school kids to go through an immigration checkpoint on Interstate 10, where undocumented students risk being taken into custody.
And public education is just one part of the immigration crisis the president addressed when he cut the Gordian Knot with his executive order.
Work, which was illegal, now becomes legal. The lives of some 800,000 immigrants were dramatically changed by President Obama's order.
As for the politics, this is the same 800,000 immigrants whom Romney argues should "self-deport." That is, pack up and voluntarily return to their countries of origin. In fact, Romney makes this argument for the larger population of 11 million undocumented immigrants in the country.
It's a policy that even Newt Gingrich decried as unfair and inhuman, and the president's order brought into high relief the inhumanity of Mitt Romney's position.
Yesterday, on CBS's Face the Nation, Romney refused to say that he would overturn Obama's executive order, if he were elected president. Which is odd, because the president's order flies in the face of Romney's stated position that the immigrants have to go.
Obama's decision will not go unnoticed by the 21.7 million Hispanic citizens eligible to vote in November. And its timing puts Romney in a difficult position, as he prepares for a major campaign speech before Hispanic elected officials later this week.