A president bounces off the ropes

U.S. President Barack Obama speaks at the White House in Washington on Sept. 26, 2014. (Photo by Kevin Lamarque/Reuters)
U.S. President Barack Obama speaks at the White House in Washington on Sept. 26, 2014.
It's not uncommon to hear the political media face criticism for a "pack mentality." The point often has merit -- when the political establishment starts to embrace a consensus, and a conventional wisdom takes hold, many are loath to ignore the direction of the prevailing winds.
But after a while, the conventional wisdom gets dull and an entirely different instinct kicks in: rejecting what the pack says and embracing the opposite. (See every piece with some variation on the headline, "Everything you know about _______ is wrong.")
So, the pack says President Obama is flailing and unpopular, smacked down by the electorate in the midterms, lacking capital and prospects, and no longer relevant with the 2016 race already on the horizon? That was last week's narrative; this week Obama is the comeback kid.
The front page of today's New York Times:

President Obama emerged from last week's midterm election rejected by voters, hobbled politically and doomed to a final two years in office suffering from early lame-duck syndrome. That, at least, was the consensus in both parties. No one seems to have told Mr. Obama. In the 10 days since "we got beat," as he put it, by Republicans who captured the Senate and bolstered control over the House, Mr. Obama has flexed his muscles on immigration, climate change and the Internet, demonstrating that he still aspires to enact sweeping policies that could help define his legacy.

Last week, President Barack Obama's party took a beating in the midterm elections, but this week there's already some swagger returning to his step. Obama's landmark deal with China to cut greenhouse gas emissions, announced Wednesday, is a move that, the White House feels, shows just how much the president can do without Congress.... As Obama trumpeted the climate deal during a news conference here, he didn't sound much like a president who just got his hat handed to him back home.

Insomuch as there was any analysis of what the results would mean for the next two years, it tended to dwell on when the President would recognize the error of his ways. In the narrative promulgated by the panjandrums of the Washington commentariat, this would involve publicly acknowledging his grave character flaws, disassembling the tight-knit circle of aides that surrounds him, inviting over some Capitol Hill bigwigs (and possibly some media bigwigs) for whiskey-and-poker evenings, and generally being less of an arrogant, aloof jerk. After Obama went on CBS's "Face the Nation" over the weekend and made comments similar to ones he had offered in his press conference, Bob Woodward, during a panel discussion later in the show, criticized the President's failure to make clear that he was now willing to listen to, and compromise with, the Republicans. It was the same old Obama, Woodward lamented. In that, Woodward was almost certainly correct. Rather than seeking to reinvent himself as a glad-hander or a triangulator, Obama spent the first week of his two-year term as Lame-Duck-in-Chief doing what he usually does: quietly going about his business, using the levers of a divided government to advance bits and pieces of his agenda, and no doubt hoping, that, at some point, his supporters and critics alike will recognize that his actions add up to something of significance. And, lo and behold, he had quite a bit of success.

He did, indeed. The week after the Republicans' big wins, Obama secured a breakthrough agreement with China on climate change; he successfully introduced a well-received Attorney General nominee; he showed some fresh leadership on net neutrality; he welcomed some good news on the efficacy of the Affordable Care Act; and he took some solace in the fact that the total number of Ebola patients in the United States is now zero.
One gets the sense that the Bob Woodwards of the world find this off-putting. The president's party struggled badly in sixth-year midterms -- as nearly always happens in sixth-year midterms -- and there's an expectation that Obama will sit alone in a corner and think about what he's done. 
The president, after a rough cycle, is supposed to be even more conciliatory to Republicans, invite even more Republicans onto his administration's team, find new ways to offer Republicans compromises that they won't consider accepting, and move further away from the governing agenda Republicans don't like.
And yet, Obama just keeps moving forward, occasionally even enjoying good weeks like this one.