Off to a good start…

Tongue in Cheek, earlier this week I gave congratulations to President Obama on the start of his 2nd term, while writing about difficult the situation is in Russia that he will face. But that is but one of the tricky situations he will encounter both at home and abroad.

Still, I have to admire Obama’s determination to take on big issues, and so far this year he has done surprisingly well. To wit:

Obama got an agreement on taxes that raised taxes on the rich without any promised cuts in spending; he got the Republicans to back away from using the debt limit as a tool of political pressure; he has proposed fairly realistic gun-control legislation backed up by a slew of executive orders to make enforcement of existing gun laws more effective; and he has lined up a slate of uncompromising appointments for his second term that will solidify his control of the unwieldy federal bureaucracy.

Regarding gun control, an issue on which Obama did NOTHING in his first term while people around the country were cut down in a series of spectacular shootings, his actions are solid. Americans have long equated personal freedom and the right to use guns to defend their homes and families. Since most Americans want to keep government small, depending solely on the government (police and militia) for protection has never been widely popular. So no gun control laws will aggressively limit citizens’ access to firearms.

What Obama has therefore done is try to shape firearms use in ways that limit the risks and consequences of attacks on civilians. His plans include keeping military-style weapons and ammunition out of the hands of civilians, making background checks to keep criminals from obtaining guns more effective, increasing funds for police, and increasing funds for school counselors and mental health professionals. All of these are good and reasonable efforts to limit mayhem without attacking the rights of legitimate gun owners.

Huge problems remain — Europe is facing off with the U.K. over the shape of the EU; the global economy remains mired in a long-term slump; the Arab revolts will continue to shake the Middle East with Syria already a bloodbath; Russia and China may face ever-growing challenges to arbitrary authoritarian governance; and population growth is racing ahead in the poorest and worst-governed nations in Africa, the Middle east, and south Asia. At home, the weak U.S. economy will force some tough decisions on spending and entitlements.

So Obama will continue to accumulate grey hairs; but if he can tackle these problems the way he has started his 2nd term, with firmness tempered by realism, he may succeed better than we have come expect.

About jackgoldstone

Hazel Professor of Public Policy at George Mason University
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