With well over year still to go till polling day, the latest race for the White House is already under way, and the world is watching as Republican, Democratic and even socialist politicians begin their fight for one of the most powerful positions in the world.
As the competition heats up, you might think Barack Obama’s current administration would begin to cool down, but that’s not the case. As he braces himself for the end of his second and final term, President Obama has proven he won’t shy away from making some serious changes before January 2016.
Indeed, President Obama will be known as the man in charge when gay marriage was legalised across all 50 states. He lobbied to raise the national minimum wage from $7.25 to $10.10 (€6.59 to €9.18). And his historical, and controversial, Affordable Care Act – derided by his conservative opponents as Obamacare, a name that has since also taken on a positive spin – has provided 16 million families with access to healthcare they would otherwise never have had.
This year the Obama administration has only continued to push his forward-thinking agenda. On 16 July, President Obama became the first US president to go behind bars and visit a federal prison. This was a huge moment for Obama, who’s now chosen to focus America’s attention on our crippling justice system and the damaging effect it has on inmates’ psychology and their hope for rehabilitation.
It’s no secret that America has a disproportionately large prison population, one of the biggest in the world. This is mostly due to the long-term incarceration of non-violent offenders. President Obama stressed to the public that taxpayers are the ones responsible for the $80bn a year that goes towards keeping so many people in jail. According to The New York Times, the average inmate in New York state costs $60,000 a year to incarcerate.
If these numbers don’t resonate deeply enough, think of it this way: if we were to reroute the funding that goes into our prisons towards education, the United States could send every child to a state college or university for free.
Thinking about long-term imprisonment, perhaps one of Obama’s most notorious failures as president was in not fulfilling his promise to finally close the detention centre at Guantanamo Bay, a name that’s become a byword for cruelty, torture, mental and physical abuse. Obama pledged to close the prison within his first year in office; six years later and he’s only just drafted a plan that may, or may not, reach Congress.
Most backlashes to his attempts have come from congressional Republicans who believe the facility should remain open to house dangerous terrorists, or those believed to be such. Yet the inability of Obama to uphold his first-year promise, some believe, is a testament to his failures in office rather than the intractability of his political opposition.
And yet, Obama’s administration was finally successful in meeting a historic agreement with Iran over its nuclear capabilities. In July the United States, along with the UK, France, China, Germany and Russia, signed what the White House described as a “long-term comprehensive nuclear deal that will prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon and ensure their nuclear programme will be exclusively peaceful in the future.”
While there has not been any direct criticism from Congress as a whole, many Republicans feel this deal goes too easy on Iran and leaves the US vulnerable to the Middle Eastern country as a potential new nuclear power. Obama’s beliefs on this topic are clear from his affirmation that, if needed, he will use his power to veto Congressional decisions in order to secure the passing of the deal.
It seems that President Obama is taking a stand his last months in office. Instead of working to appeal to both right and left, he’s chosen instead to stick to his own convictions. Even though critics of the man and his policies are never short of breath, and Republicans indeed intend to push for sanctions ahainst Iran in the wake of the nuclear deal, the Commander-in-Chief has made it abundantly clear that as his final months in office tick away, he’s willing to fight for what he believes in.