Two big decisions this week could lead to the perception that President Obama is leading America down a permissive path, thus changing America in a negative way. Yesterday, the Justice Department announced it will not challenge the new state laws legalizing the medical and recreational use of marijuana as long as the laws do not violate eight new federal enforcement priorities, including the distribution of pot to minors.
This is a policy change from April of this year when President Obama’s Drug Czar Gil Kerlikowski said the Administration had no plans to honor the new laws that legalized the recreational use of marijuana in Colorado and Washington.
Another significant announcement from the Obama Administration this week came from Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew, who said the government will allow same-sex couples to file joint federal tax returns if they are married in states where same-sex marriage has been legalized. Secretary Lew said this new rule will provide “clear, coherent tax filing guidance for all legally married same-sex couples nationwide.” The IRS now recognizes the legal status of same-sex couples.
With the Administration changing its position and announcing it will not enforce federal laws in states where marijuana has been legalized and will permit same-sex couples to file joint tax returns, the question will be asked – is President Obama changing American traditions?
As tempting as it is for many Americans to blame President Obama, or any Democrat in the White House, for what might be perceived as the country moving away from certain standards and moral values, it is important to recognize that the President is actually reacting to the ‘voice of the people.’
President Obama did not make decisions about legalizing marijuana or same-sex marriage – the voters in various states made those decisions with their votes and in the case of same-sex marriage, the Supreme Court has ruled the vote to ban same-sex marriage was unconstitutional. This is not so much a defense of the President as it is a reminder of basic civics. The day will come when criticism of a president for leading American in the wrong direction will come from the other side of the political spectrum and the same defense will be part of that debate.
Political tension is so high in America that this growing trend of blaming a president for anything and everything is certain to continue – unless Americans on both sides of the political aisle focus more on facts than rhetoric. America is changing - and change, even if it’s positive change, will always be resisted by those who sense a loss of stability in an already rapidly-changing world. But change is a natural necessity in the evolution of society.
The path to recognition of legal same-sex marriage as a fundamental right and the path toward the greater acceptance of marijuana use winds through both Republican and Democrat presidents. When the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that state laws banning sodomy were unconstitutional in 2003, many on the right deemed this as the opening of the door to legalized same-sex marriage. That milestone occurred when President George W. Bush was in office. California was the first state to legalize the medicinal use of marijuana in 1996 - when President Bill Clinton was in office.
The trends toward accepting same-sex marriage and the legalization of marijuana have found fertile ground when both parties occupied the White House – so it can be argued that these trends reach beyond partisan politics.
In these times when social media and the Internet serve as a reputable news and editorial source for an increasing number of Americans, it is easy to create a frenzy over condemning the President by web stories, posts and blogs that connect the government’s new position on marijuana laws and the IRS’ recognition of same-sex married couples and, thus advancing the theory that the Obama is leading America away from traditional morals and standards.
In reality, it is actually the growing consensus of the people that is changing America – not the President.