Is he crazy? Or crazy like a fox?

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So, in the midst of a recession in which the US is shedding jobs the way a dogs loses its fur in the summer, President Obama is planning to push for immigration reform?

While acknowledging that the recession makes the political battle more difficult, President Obama plans to begin addressing the country’s immigration system this year, including looking for a path for illegal immigrants to become legal, a senior administration official said on Wednesday.

Mr. Obama will frame the new effort — likely to rouse passions on all sides of the highly divisive issue — as “policy reform that controls immigration and makes it an orderly system,” said the official, Cecilia Muñoz, deputy assistant to the president and director of intergovernmental affairs in the White House.

Mr. Obama plans to speak publicly about the issue in May, administration officials said, and over the summer he will convene working groups, including lawmakers from both parties and a range of immigration groups, to begin discussing possible legislation for as early as this fall.

Some White House officials said that immigration would not take precedence over the health care and energy proposals that Mr. Obama has identified as priorities. But the timetable is consistent with pledges Mr. Obama made to Hispanic groups in last year’s campaign.

He said then that comprehensive immigration legislation, including a plan to make legal status possible for an estimated 12 million illegal immigrants, would be a priority in his first year in office. Latino voters turned out strongly for Mr. Obama in the election.

“He intends to start the debate this year,” Ms. Muñoz said.

Emphasis added.

My first thought was that PBO has to be crazy. He’s already trying to push a radical agenda through as quickly as possible in the face of growing public opposition, and now he tosses gasoline on the fire by putting immigration on the table? It seems to me the only way he could more quickly galvanize conservatives would be to propose repealing the Second Amendment. The ire this would produce could endanger his whole agenda.

But, what if it’s instead a distraction, a cynical decoy? Knowing illegal immigration is a red flag for a large segment of Americans, what if PBO is deliberately using the issue to bear-bait conservatives, getting them to exhaust themselves defeating it and leaving them with not enough energy or will left to fight his healthcare and environmental plans? There would be added benefits for him, too: the fight over immigration would likely widen the gulf between Republicans and the Hispanic voters they want to woo, and give Obama another chance to appear as their patron and solidify the Democrats’ hold over that bloc. Also, he can still go to pro-immigration and pro-legalization groups and say “Hey, I tried. I lived up to my promises.”

So, which is it? The dumb move of a neophyte, arrogant politician, or a cagey strategy that sacrifices one thing to get what he really wants?

(hat tip: Ed Morrissey)

(Cross-posted at Public Secrets, my home on the Web.)