January 7th, 2016
In an emotional speech, US President Barack Obama recently unveiled executive action on gun control that would expand background checks on gun buyers. After listing several mass shootings that took place in the US in the past few years, Obama stated, “We know we can’t stop every act of violence, every act of evil in the world. But maybe we could try to stop one act of evil, one act of violence … The gun lobby may be holding Congress hostage right now, but they cannot hold America hostage. We do not need to accept this carnage as the price of freedom.”
Modest as the new measures are, the response from the Republicans was, as always, brutal. The Speaker of the House Paul Ryan said “This is a dangerous level of executive overreach, and the country will not stand for it,” adding that the executive order would “no doubt be challenged in the Courts”. The National Rifle Association (NRA) condemned Obama’s move via a statement that said: “The American people do not need more emotional, condescending lectures that are completely devoid of facts … the fact is that President Obama’s proposals would not have prevented any of the horrific events he mentioned.” The Democrats, needless to say, applauded Obama’s move.
Gun control is a politically charged debate in the United States. The NRA has been accused of lobbying politicians and funding anti-gun control campaigns. At the same time, supporters of increased gun control have faced backlash for violating the American Constitution’s Second Amendment. It is all the more complicated in the present scenario what with a Democrat in the White House and the Republicans controlling Capitol Hill. Public opinion on gun control – and legal interpretation of the Second Amendment – is highly subjective and uncertain. While, according to a Quinnipiac University poll, 89% Americans support expanded background checks, according to a CNN/ORC poll 51% Americans are against stricter gun laws. This year being election year for the US, gun control, along with foreign policy, will dominate political rhetoric.
But this article is not about gun control. This is about what Barack Obama did this week. It was both highly reckless and brave. His second term has been surprisingly successful with many foreign policy victories, falling unemployment and a forecast-defying, growing economy. He will no doubt be remembered favourably for reinstating bilateral relations with Cuba, the Trans-Pacific Partnership, and the Iran Nuclear Deal and for his domestic policies regarding healthcare, LGBT rights and climate change. On the other hand, he has failed in providing a concrete policy to combat ISIS in the Middle-east, and has overseen a worsening Syria. What he did this week adds to a long list of executive actions he’s been forced to pass due to a Congress which simply won’t send him a Law to sign.
It is no secret that Obama receives an unnaturally high amount of flak from his political opponents and the general public. Is this really justified, though? An informed, unbiased review will point to the contrary. Ever since he won the 2008 Presidential Election, Obama had to deal with a Republican Party united by a pathological hatred for him. Now this would seem defensible if one disagreed with his policies, but to call him off before his term actually began – that’s paranoia right there.
Political theorists and columnists concede that Barack Obama has in many ways been treated unfairly by his opponents. Some argue this is because of his race, some argue this is because people think he’s a “Muslim”, others argue this is because American politics is becoming increasingly polarized and prone to misinformation.
While Obama’s opinion polls have almost always been around 49% – 51% (commendable for any President), a sizeable faction of public opinion on Obama has been unreasonable. This can be seen in the way people loathe him for being a “Muslim”, a “Kenyan” and a “Marxist”. No politician in modern American history has had to deal with as much baseless opposition as Barack Obama.
In the past few years, the world watched the Republicans with increasing incredulity as they embarrassed American politics with their trickle-down economics, their opposition to Supreme Court-validated same-sex marriage, their hatred for the Affordable Care Act, their warmongering foreign policy and their reaction to domestic mass shootings. As Paul Krugman wrote in The New York Times, the Republican Party had been heading for a controversial leader like Donald Trump for years as Republican politicians had trained their base to care more for politics than policy. By branding Obama a “Kenyan” and a “Muslim” and anybody who was pro-Democrat as anti-America, the Grand Old Party set the stage for a heavily diluted national debate, enabling far-right elements like Trump to capitalize on mass misinformation and discontent.
While many agree that the hype and euphoria amidst which Obama was elected in 2008 was short-lived, and that his first-term was relatively uninspiring, there is widespread consensus among mainstream observers – including Chait and Krugman – that Obama will go down as one of modern America’s best Presidents.
President Barack Obama tears up during his speech: