President Barack Obama is once again faced with a problem of his own creation. After all, when you sow disgust you reap mistrust.
For seven years the president has dismissed, demeaned and denounced those who have raised legitimate concerns about his policies. And when those concerns have turned out to be correct, as they often have - think “if you like your health care plan, you can keep it,” the Islamic State being “contained,” the promise of a post-partisan America, and so on - he ignores the evidence, berates his critics, and asserts that everything is going well.
So when 31 governors turned their thumbs down on Obama’s decision to accept 10,000 Syrian refugees and distribute them among the states, the governors were sending a message that said, “We do not trust you and your administration to tell the truth or do the due diligence necessary to vet refugees.”
Let’s be clear: Every governor knows this is a country of immigrants with a long and cherished tradition of helping refugees. And they know that the vast majority of the refugees would be honest and law-abiding, thrilled to get a chance at a new start in America. But even a vast majority isn’t 100 percent, and that presents a legitimate safety concern.
But Obama, true to form, dismissed the concerns and ridiculed the critics. “Apparently they (the Republicans) are scared of widows and orphans coming into the United States of America,” the president sneered. He then claimed that the screening process would be the “most rigorous process conceivable.”
Is that so? Remember Obama administration officials boasting how well the HealthCare.gov website would work right before its disastrous rollout? So what about refugee screening technology? Under normal circumstances, elected officials and most of the public would take the president’s word.
But this president has misled the public so often that he hasn’t earned the benefit of the doubt - and he isn’t getting it. The governors resisting the refugee resettlement simply don’t trust Obama’s claims of stringent security checks. And neither does the public. A Rasmussen poll showed some 60 percent of likely voters “oppose the settling of Syrian refugees in the state where they live.” Even many elected Democrats are skeptical.
This same president keeps trying to relocate Guantanamo detainees stateside, assuring governors the prisoners are not a threat - even though more than 100 of them who have been released have rejoined jihadist groups. Exacerbating the mistrust, the administration has resorted to making ludicrous statements.
For example, the State Department says that only 2 percent of Syrian refugees admitted to this country since 2011 are “military-age males.” So what? Anyone watching the news can see that young and middle-age adult males make up a good portion of those currently fleeing Syria. Even if the State Department restricted the 10,000 refugees to “widows and orphans,” widows have brothers and orphans have uncles.
Wouldn’t there be a need to let other family members in, if not now, then soon, in order to help provide for the resettled women and children? And, of course, some women have been suicide bombers.
Here’s the point: Those who are frustrated with the refugee stalemate need to focus their ire on the president, not the governors. Obama entered the White House determined to prove that big government can do big things well. Instead, he has increased Americans’ long-held skepticism of big government. Remember the IRS scandal? The Environmental Protection Agency polluting a Colorado river? The Veterans Affairs’ health care scandal? And that “red line” in Syria?
I, for one, hope the administration, Congress and governors can find a solution that upholds the country’s long tradition as a haven for refugees. The mistrust in this case isn’t targeted so much at the Syrian refugees, but at the White House.
Merrill Matthews is a resident scholar with the Institute for Policy Innovation in metropolitan Dallas. He holds a doctorate in humanities from the University of Texas at Dallas.