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President Obama still has the opportunity to be a transformational president, but only if he spends his second term finally unleashing the audacity that propelled his presidency in the beginning. With Obama's final campaign now over, whatever excuses the cautious, thinly-sliced political calculations provided for inaction on many important causes no longer apply. For example: gun control. After each mass shooting, the president always speaks beautifully -- but very generally -- about the issue of violence. "We cannot and will not be passive in the face of such violence," he said at the memorial following the Tucson shooting. "We should be willing to challenge old assumptions in order to lessen the prospects of violence in the future." But there have been more than 60 multiple shootings since Tucson.
And yet, the only major thing Obama did regarding access to guns in his first term was to actually increase it, signing a bill to allow people to bring loaded firearms into national parks and on Amtrak trains. During the campaign, the issue was only brought up in the second debate, in which the president said, "Part of [the solution] is seeing if we can get an assault weapons ban reintroduced." Which, of course, caused the NRA to go into overdrive, running ads about Obama's Supreme Court appointments. But, as HuffPost's Jennifer Bendery wrote at the time, "the fact that the NRA is bashing Obama on his court appointments, and not on his legislative record, reflects the reality that he has done next to nothing on gun control since becoming president." Sen. Dianne Feinstein, sponsor of the 1994 assault weapons ban that expired in 2004, plans on reintroducing it in the new Congress. Support from the White House would be one way to "lessen the prospects of violence in the future."
Another issue on which it would be great to see stepped-up second-term leadership is the drug war. Back in July, Marc Ambinder wrote that, according to his sources, President Obama was going to "pivot" to the drug war in his second term. "From his days as a state senator in Illinois," wrote Ambinder, "Obama has considered the Drug War to be a failure, a conflict that has exacerbated the problem of drug abuse, devastated entire communities, changed policing practices for the worse, and has led to a generation of young children, disproportionately black and minority, to grow up in dislocated homes, or in none at all." If that's true, the president has been pretty successful at keeping his beliefs about the drug war to himself. As HuffPost's Nick Wing wrote in July, Obama's "recent policy moves have not shown a particular interest in reflecting that worry" -- policy moves like a Justice Department crackdown on medical marijuana and continued prosecutions for possession.
But now that Colorado and Washington state have legalized pot, the president will have a significant opportunity to "pivot" to acting on his belief that the drug war has been a failure. "Since those anti-drug war principles are now enshrined in Colorado's constitution, only the feds can stop this Rocky Mountain state -- if they so choose," writes David Sirota. "But will they?" Colorado Rep. Diana DeGette recently introduced a bill that would exempt states from the federal ban on possessing or using small amounts of marijuana. Presidential support of this bill could be the beginning of the end of America's disastrous drug war that has destroyed so many lives.
In fact, President Obama has it in his power to stop the ongoing destruction of many of those lives. In the past, he has spoken out against mandatory minimum sentences for drug crimes and the disparity between sentences for crack and cocaine. These policies have helped increase the number of federal prisoners to over 200,000, and the number of Americans under some form of correctional supervision to six million, which Adam Gopnik calls "the moral scandal of American life."