In the final press conference before 2014, President Obama refused to acknowledge that 2013 was the worst year of his presidency. While it wouldn't be realistic to expect a president to admit that he's dropped the proverbial ball, one can only hope that Obama isn't buying his own spin. If he truly wants 2014 to be the "breakthrough year" that he promised, he only needs to make and abide by these seven New Year's resolutions.
1. Respect the Fourth Amendment
When Edward Snowden exposed the NSA's unprecedented domestic spying program earlier this year, he revealed that Obama was guilty of the same sin perpetrated by the Bush administration — the egregious violation of American citizens' Fourth Amendment right "to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures." Although presidents are notoriously reluctant to admit they were wrong on important policy matters, Obama could regain much of the support he has lost among liberals if he owns this mistake and withdraws his support for the NSA's excesses before it reaches the Supreme Court next year.
2. Stop allowing right-wingers to co-opt the Constitution
Of course, one of the chief difficulties in demanding constitutional fealty is that conservatives and libertarians abuse our founding document to advance their own agenda. Like the proverbial boy who cried wolf, they are so quick to denounce any progressive program they dislike as "unconstitutional" that it becomes difficult to distinguish between genuine threats to our founding principles (see above) and right-wing polemical distortions. If Obama wants to truly shake up our national debate, he should directly challenge the conservative spin, whether it's on economic issues or gun control.
3. Trust the intelligence of the American people
There were two "scandals" associated with the roll out of the Affordable Care Act in 2013, and this resolution deals with the first one — namely, the revelation that Obama lied when he said any Americans who wanted to keep their existing insurance plans would be able to do so. Not only did this tarnish the image of a program that is still working quite well, but it unnecessarily set Obama up to be the fall guy for the insurance companies' greed. After all, the government didn't force these corporations to cancel policies that were inadequate to the needs of their consumers; they chose to do this instead of improving existing plans in accordance with ACA mandates. Certainly it would have been ideal for Obama to have accounted for this by using the ACA to require insurance companies to improve these pre-existing policies without raising premiums, but at the very least, he should have had faith that the American public would realize who deserved the blame if insurance companies chose profit over principle.
4. Don't trust the intelligence of your tech people
As Tom Reimann of Cracked brilliantly explained, no one should have been surprised at the glitchiness of the ACA's website, which was the other Obamacare "scandal" this year. Not only is the government notoriously behind-the-times when it comes to computer technology, but as Reimann points out, the Obamacare website was "designed to accommodate hundreds of thousands of people simultaneously," something that even tech savvy companies like Blizzard (which manufactured hit video games like Diablo III and World of Warcraft) has had difficulty pulling off right out of the gate. Although the conventional wisdom dictates that Obama should have hired better IT people (a point that has some degree of merit), he should have also been honest with the American public from the beginning that these problems might occur.
5. Do better PR
Despite the widespread media outcry against Obama's "selfie" during Nelson Mandela's memorial service, the real scandal is not that Obama allowed himself such a light-hearted moment (especially considering the celebratory atmosphere of South African funerals), but rather that he was so careless about his public image. He should never have put himself in a situation where parties who were in the know (like the photographer who took the picture and British Prime Minister David Cameron) needed to defend his selfie. Indeed, for a president who has generally been regarded as a canny user of social media, it defies belief that he would allow himself to be put in a position where he could meet widespread ridicule, such as when this series of pictures was released that suggested a flirtatious dynamic between the president and Danish Prime Minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt to the jealous dismay of First Lady Michelle Obama:
Although anyone who has matured beyond adolescent salacious theorizing knows that the President of the United States didn't hook up with the Danish Prime Minister at Nelson Mandela's funeral, Obama needs to be more image conscious in the future.
6. Advocate for marijuana legalization
It's a well-known talking point among Obama's right-wing critics that he was elected on the abstract promises of "hope" and "change" without delivering on either one. While these charges (a) ignore Obama's impressive record of achievement, as I've discussed before and (b) self-contradicting, at least when coming from the mouths of the same people who denounce the president as a radical socialist, the truth is that Obama has failed to lead on some of the most pressing issues of our time. For instance, although polls find that a clear majority of Americans support legalizing marijuana, Obama has done little on this issue aside from declining to prosecute offenders in states that have legalized recreational use of the drug. could force congressional conservatives to confront their ostensible "small government" values by pushing to legalize the drug on a federal level. What Henry Clay once wrote about the temperance movement against alcohol is as true today about cannabis: "It will destroy itself whenever it resorts to coercion or mixes in the politics of the country."
7. Listen to Kanye West (on prison reform, anyway)
Say what you will about Kanye West, but he deserves enormous credit for attempting to draw attention to the law enforcement industrial complex in a mainstream single. As he put it in "New Slaves":
"Meanwhile the DEA/ Teamed up with the CCA/ They trying to lock niggas up/ They trying to make new slaves/ See that’s that private owned prison/ Get your piece today."
This is another issue in which Obama could fulfill the promise of change from his first election. Although West isn't the first social critic to point out that the private companies which build our prisons throw their weight behind harsher drug laws so they can continue constructing new penal facilities and exploiting cheap inmate labor (creating a $70 billion market), his prominence provides Obama with an excellent opportunity to address this serious human rights problem, which effects the more than one out of 100 Americans currently behind bars (which is quadruple the number from 1980).