President Barack Obama speaks at an event on Oct. 2, 2014 in Evanston, Ill.
Photo by Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty

The ‘Obama refuses to lead’ crowd falls silent

Kevin Drum pauses today to take stock of the recent actions from President Lame Duck.
So how have things been going for our bored, exhausted, and disengaged president? He’s been acting pretty enthusiastic, energized, and absorbed with his job, I’d say.
It’s funny, in a way, to think about how long ago the midterm elections seem. Seven weeks ago, President Obama was apparently supposed to be a defeated man, crushed by an electoral rebuke, pushed into irrelevancy by an ascendant far-right majority in Congress. It was up to the White House, the Beltway said, to start looking for new ways to make Republicans happy.
 
There’s a script that lame-duck presidents are supposed to follow, and gosh darn it, Obama would be expected to play by the rules, slipping further and further out of frame.
 
But given today’s developments, it’s striking to realize what the president has done over the 58 days since the midterms.
 
Obviously, there’s today’s historic announcement about U.S. policy towards Cuba. There’s also Obama’s breakthrough climate agreement with China, the successful secret mission that freed American prisoners in North Korea, and the sharp reduction of prisoners at Guantanamo Bay.
 
And that’s just foreign policy. Closer to home, the president has unveiled a major new immigration policy that will bring new hope to 5 million immigrants; he’s taken the lead on net neutrality; and he’s scored a series of confirmation victories in the closing days of the Senate.
 
All of this comes against the backdrop of an improving job market, a highly successful ACA open-enrollment period, falling gas prices, a Russian crisis that arguably benefits the United States, and the number of Ebola cases in the United States falling to zero.
 
The White House’s many critics don’t want to hear this, but if Obama were a Republican, it’s likely we’d be inundated with coverage about how “President Comeback just got his mojo back.”
 
Indeed, I continue to think about Dana Milbank’s column from two weeks ago today.
…Obama has demonstrated a preference to mull rather than to act. Former Obama Pentagon chief Leon Panetta, in his memoir, wrote that Obama too often “relies on the logic of a law professor rather than the passion of a leader.”
Today’s historic agreement with Cuba belies such criticism – plenty of presidents have talked about a more sensible course on Cuba, but this president actually did something about it. This required some bold leadership and a willingness to take a risk on a contentious issue, and Obama delivered.
 
To be sure, we can and should argue about the merits of the president’s decisions. Maybe this dramatic foreign policy shift is a major step forward, maybe not.  Perhaps Obama’s post-midterm moves will advance the nation’s interests, perhaps not.
 
But the point is, for all the chatter about a disengaged president who’s reluctant to act, the last seven weeks prove those assumptions wrong. Obama has clearly taken charge, pursuing an ambitious agenda with striking vigor.
 
Every pundit who carelessly throws around the “why won’t Obama lead more?” cliches clearly needs to rethink the thesis.
 

Barack Obama

The 'Obama refuses to lead' crowd falls silent