After winning the Senate in the November elections, the Republicans finally have control over both houses of the US Congress. It’s the first time in almost five years that one party has had control over both chambers, and almost ten years since the Republicans had full control. As a result, President Obama’s already tenuous relationship with Congress is likely to become even more acute, as he now can’t rely on the Senate to act as a counterweight to the overwhelming Republican control of the House of Representatives. Despite Obama’s status as head of state, his ability to govern effectively is heavily reliant on the make-up of Congress. Therefore, total control being placed in the hands of the opposing party has a drastic effect and this staunch opposition threatens to mark the next and final chapter in the Obama Presidency.
Obama has just over two years left to run as leader of the free world and thus questions regarding his legacy are becoming more prominent. At present, Obama’s greatest legislative achievement has been his healthcare law. Although far from a radical improvement, especially when in comparison with other developed systems, the legislation is still likely to be seen as a landmark in American political history.
It should be noted though that this law was passed in 2009, when Obama’s Democrats had control of both houses of Congress, and the Republican Party was in tatters post-Bush.
Therefore, considering the fact that the Democrats have now lost both houses, the Tea Party has revived the right-wing base, and Obama is seeing his approval rating languishing in the low 40’s, it seems entirely predictable that his second term will peter out without much legislative accomplishment. We’ve seen this before in recent times as the Bush presidency, after losing Congress in the 2006 mid-term elections, seemed to taper off in the final two years.
This does not have to be Obama’s fate. There are two key areas in which Obama can take decisive action, without referring to Congress. This path would have been one that Obama would have wanted to avoid for most of his presidency, seeing as he has often stressed the importance of congressional authority and not executive authority. However, the Republican Party’s platform since he took office in 2009 was centred on a central notion: block everything. Obama’s use of executive orders to pass through measures in relation to climate change and now most recently immigration, allures to the possibility that he may have finally wised up to this.
The first area that Obama must focus on is the Middle East. Obama has never positioned himself as a foreign-policy president and all the evidence suggests that he has always resented the wars that Bush left him and would much rather focus on domestic issues, especially in relation to the inequality of the American economic system. However, now that Islamists have taken a massive step forward in a declaration of what they have always wanted, a Caliphate, and in the process set on a mission to conquer the Middle East, Obama has no choice but to confront the region. In fairness, Obama has taken the correct course thus far; military action is and always will be the only sensible option when the Jihadi question arises, but it is also incredibly important that he finally addresses the problem rhetorically.
Obama, like just about every other politician it seems, has stressed at a nauseating length that the Islamic state has absolutely nothing to do with Islam as its set of beliefs and is just another example of bad people behaving badly. This kind of rhetoric not only completely misdiagnoses the problem, but also allows a vacuum for nonsensical narratives to take hold, such as that death and destruction only began in Iraq when the Coalition forces arrived in March 2003 and that terrorists only exist in the region because we aggravate them in the first place. This kind of drivel is commonplace, for three primary reasons; one being fear, the second being multicultural sensitivity and the third being guilt for western imperialist crimes in the past.
If we are ever to properly diagnose such a critical issue, then our leaders must first outline what we are fighting. This is a war of ideology between civilisation and those who want to destroy it and must be defined as such.
Climate change is another concern that threatens civilisation over the coming decades, and thus it is imperative that Obama continues on the relatively impressive path that he has taken in recent years. As mentioned before, Obama has already taken executive action on this issue, and it seems like he isn’t planning to leave it there.
The key thing about this issue is that it is global in scope and therefore requires international effort. Obama’s credibility in the US may be irredeemable but his relative popularity around the world still gives him the leverage to tackle climate change at an ever-increasing pace. Although I believe he should have been more explicit in shaming Tony Abbott at the G20 conference last month, the fact that he did so at all suggests the importance of this issue to Obama. Here he is giving the only speech he’ll make in Australia while he’s here, and possibly the last he’ll make here as President, and he takes aim at the crowning jewel of the Abbott record.
Sustained pressure of this sort on leaders around the world can only be beneficial in pushing through deals such as the one concocted with Chinese President Xi Jinping. Although some may say that there is a lack of boldness to the Chinese side of the deal, it’s still a step in the right direction and Obama still has the scope and power to make the necessary inroads.
When one considers the absolute insanity that has swept through the Republican Party over the last few years, it is perhaps comforting to know that these two incredibly important issues are not entirely held hostage by a Republican packed Congress. Obama still has the opportunity to enact significant change and if he wants to be remembered for something more than his healthcare bill, he should grasp it.