President Obama has taken bold actions in the fourth quarter of 2014, including a shift in Cuban policy and a public condemnation of Sony Pictures Entertainment’s decision to pull controversial film The Interview. It’s been several weeks of determined administrative change and strong messaging after a disappointing midterm election, starting with a resolution to alter the country’s broken immigration laws within the limits of Executive power.
Despite the incoming threat of a 114th Congress that promises to be even less agreeable than its predecessor, it finally feels like a winning time to be a liberal. Standing on the right side of history with a leader who has nothing left to personally gain or lose lives up in some small way to the ideals of candidate Obama. By and large, it’s a happy holiday week for those of us who are tired of receiving kicked cans from the nation’s capital.
But there is much work to be done, at home and abroad, before we put real distance between ourselves and the stagnant at best, harmful at worst policies that have characterized most of this century to date. For every Dreamer who now has a legal shot at a future in America, there is climate change denial. With satisfaction over the dismissal of an outdated, counterproductive approach to Cuban relations, we must still endure an economic model built to reward the one percent at the expense of almost everyone else. And then there’s the issue that often feels most hopeless of all – guns and weapons.
President Obama has been clear in his advocacy of sensible gun reform at home, as well as balanced global demilitarization. After the heartbreaking events at Sandy Hook Elementary School two years ago, the POTUS said:
“These tragedies must end, and to end them, we must change. We will be told that the causes of such violence are complex, and it is true. No single law, no set of laws can eliminate evil from the world or prevent every senseless act of violence in our society. But that can’t be an excuse for inaction. Surely we can do better than this.”
And in a June 2013 effort to reduce nuclear arms in partnership with Russia, Obama observed: “I’ve determined that we can ensure the security of America and our allies, and maintain a strong and credible strategic deterrent, while reducing our deployed strategic nuclear weapons by up to one-third.”
Shamefully, the President has been totally lacking in Congressional partners who want to make the world’s streets safer with him. A late 2012 report from the Sunlight Foundation highlighted the problem: “Just over half (51 percent) of the members of the new Congress…have received funding from the National Rifle Association’s political action committee at some point in their political careers..And 47 percent received money from the NRA in the most recent race in which they ran.”
There’s a lot that the leader of the free world can do without Capitol Hill, but he can’t ratify treaties designed to make the present and future of our planet a little more secure. Thus the BBC’s innocuous headline this week, Global Arms Trade Deal Takes Effect, masks an important detail. Around130 countries have signed the pact, but fewer than half of them have ratified it. The latter number includes the United States, which also happens to be the world’s top arms exporter.
This one ought to be a no-brainer. The treaty was written to limit the transfer of weapons to “warlords, human rights abusers, terrorists and criminal organizations.” Yet the BBC observes, “Washington signed the agreement in 2013, but now it requires approval by the Senate, where opposition is believed to be strong.” The same Senate of course, that will be controlled by the NRA-owned GOP come January.
In his new strategy of basically going it alone to give the people what they need, the President has been admirably steady. There’s reason to hope for more delayed common sense action in 2015. Public and civic agitation regarding the nation’s cynical and deadly deference to the gun lobby, and its money, ought to be high on the priority list.