When books are written on Barack Obama’s presidency, it’s unlikely that his fifth year will be celebrated as the pinnacle of his tenure. On the contrary, it’s a year White House officials almost certainly consider a disappointment.
But I’m not sure it’s been quite as disastrous as advertised.
For much of the Beltway, that the year was an abject disaster is a foregone conclusion. “Little seems to have gone right for the White House in 2013,” Politico noted this morning in a piece asking which administration had the worst fifth year. Obama had the “worst year in Washington,” the Washington Post concluded last week. 2013 “has been a pretty terrible year” for the president, BuzzFeed argued.
This has been “Obama’s year from hell,” The New Republic said. When Beltway pundits aren’t comparing Obama’s 2013 to George W. Bush’s 5th year, they’re comparing it Richard Nixon’s 5th year.
Even the most enthusiastic Obama supporter would probably balk at heralding 2013 as a success, but the premise of these analyses seems a little excessive. Consider:
* Twice congressional Republicans threatened debt-ceiling default; twice Obama stood his ground; and twice the GOP backed down before Congress did real harm. The presidential leadership helped establish a new precedent that will benefit Obama, his successors, and the country.* Congressional Republicans shut down the government to extract White House concessions. Obama and congressional Democrats stood firm and the GOP backed down.* The Obama administration forged an international agreement to rid Syria of chemical weapons, struck a historic nuclear deal with Iran, and brought Israelis and Palestinians to the table together for the first peace talks in years.* The economy has steadily improved, and 2013 is on pace to be the best year for U.S. job creation since 2005 and the second best since 1999.* The “scandals” the media hyped relentlessly in the spring proved to be largely meaningless, and while the president’s poll numbers have dropped, his standing is roughly at the same point as two years ago.
Obviously, the Affordable Care Act’s open-enrollment period got off to a dreadful start, though there’s ample evidence that the system is the midst of a dramatic turnaround. Besides, two months of website troubles do not a year make.
And while Obama’s detractors will also note that no major legislation was signed into law this year, that just makes 2013 identical to 2011 and 2012 – when Americans elected a divided government featuring radicalized Republicans unwilling to compromise, the fate of good bills with popular support was sealed, but that’s hardly the White House’s fault.
Songs will never be sung in honor of Obama’s fifth year, but the “year from hell” talk seems disproportionate given the circumstances. There have been disappointments, but 2013 just hasn’t been that bad.