Tuesday, December 23, 2014

What's your grade for 2014? -- Dec. 23, 2014 column


To hear President Barack Obama, 2014 has been a heckuva year.

“Pick any metric you want: America’s resurgence is real,” the president declared at his year-end news conference.

In case you missed it: Over the last 57 months, businesses have created nearly 11 million new jobs, most of them full-time. Wages are rising. America is the world’s largest producer of natural gas. Gas is 70 cents a gallon lower than last Christmas. Ten million Americans have gained health insurance this year, the president said.

“Meanwhile, around the world, America is leading,” he said. We lead the coalition to destroy ISIL, the international fight to check Russian aggression in the Ukraine, the global fight against Ebola in West Africa and efforts to combat climate change. Our combat mission in Afghanistan is nearly over, he said, thanking the troops and their families.

“There is no doubt that we can enter into the New Year with renewed confidence that America is making significant strides where it counts,” Obama said.

Sounds good, but when I asked a few people to grade 2014, they looked pained.

One said “fast,” as in the year flew by. Others reluctantly gave the year a C or just shrugged. I agree that 2014 deserves a C – not the worst of years, certainly not the best – but we may be easy graders.

Several polls this month have found between 64 and 69 percent of Americans still think the country is heading in the wrong direction. Seven in 10 people say the next president should govern differently than Obama, putting Obama in George W. Bush territory near the end of Bush’s second term, the Wall Street Journal reported.

Presidential historian Robert Dallek likens what has happened to Obama to what befell President Lyndon B. Johnson in the mid-1960s.

LBJ won the 1964 presidential election by one of the largest landslides in history and pushed landmark, controversial measures through Congress, including Medicare and Medicaid, civil rights and voting rights laws. Obama won decisively in 2008 and pushed through the Affordable Care Act.

“This is not to suggest that history is repeating itself. There are too many differences between Johnson and Obama — both the men and their presidencies — to argue that,” Dallek wrote in an online essay for Reuters in October. “Yet, as Mark Twain said, history may not repeat itself, but it does rhyme.”

After both presidents achieved progressive change, they lost public support. The war in Vietnam ruined LBJ’s credibility and stopped his domestic agenda. Obama has been blocked by a combination of foreign and domestic developments. His popularity has tanked.

But historians may view Obama differently than people do today, says Dallek, one of the historians who have had several dinners with the president.

“It is doubtful that Obama will end up with as poor a reputation as Johnson,” the historian writes. A recent ranking of public approval of the last 10 presidents placed Johnson third from the bottom, above only Richard M. Nixon and George W. Bush.

“Historians will likely credit the Obama administration with more advances toward a more humane society,” says Dallek, citing the Affordable Care Act, equal rights for women, equal treatment for gays and lesbians and sympathetic treatment for “Dreamers,” children brought illegally to the United States by their parents.

As Obama thinks about his place in history, he is signaling that he hasn’t given up on the present. His December surprise announcement to start normalizing relations with Cuba shows he wants to remain relevant. 

He acknowledges there is plenty of work left to do and says he’s energized and excited about what he calls his presidency’s fourth quarter. He also claims he wants to work with Republicans.

But as the GOP takes control of Congress with what they believe is a mandate to roll back Obama’s policies, the president is staking out a confrontational game plan.

“I intend to continue to do what I’ve been doing,” Obama said of his use of executive actions, which many in the GOP consider unconstitutional.

Partisan battles, standoffs, vetoes and more disappointment surely lie ahead. By this time next year, 2015 may be lucky to get a C.   

© 2014 Marsha Mercer. All rights reserved.

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