Published for The Washington Post, January 28, 2013

President Obama has grown testy about reporters who have a “default position” that policy debates have two sides. “On almost every issue,” he recently told the New Republic, “it’s, ‘Well, Democrats and Republicans can’t agree’ — as opposed to looking at why is it that they can’t agree. Who exactly is preventing us from agreeing?”

His insight is undeniable. If Republicans didn’t have all those pesky convictions and objections, agreement in Washington would come as surely as a river flows to the sea. This is the best description yet of Obama’s second-term governing vision: the invincible assumption of his own rightness. To him, objectivity requires the recognition that reality has only one side, which the president fully occupies.

On the budget, Obama has applied this vision with rigor and consistency. In his second inaugural address, he defended entitlements against the assault of social Darwinists. The goal was not to engage his congressional opponents but to delegitimize them. He sought to polarize the fiscal debate, confident that a majority can be rallied to his side.

On immigration reform, the divisions have not yet similarly hardened. In fact, the prospects are surprisingly good. Democrats are beholden to Latino voters; Republicans are justifiably terrified by an electoral future without them. Leaders of both parties seem to recognize that our immigration system is inhumane and economically counterproductive. A bipartisan group of eight senators has set out principles of reform, including improved border security, an orderly system for guest workers and a rigorous path to citizenship for 11 million undocumented immigrants already in the country. Republican senators and staffers express the rarest of opinions in Washington: trust for a leader of the other party. They generally believe that Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), chairman of the immigration subcommittee, wants a bipartisan solution.

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