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“From ‘Lame Duck’ To ‘Fourth Quarter'”: One For The History Books, As President Obama Plays Through To The End Of The Game

It seems to me that the job of political scientists is to identify patterns in political history as a way to predict the future. One of those patterns that has been pretty generally accepted is that once a presidential campaign begins to replace a second-termer, the White House occupant goes into “lame duck” status. That is certainly what everyone was expecting from President Obama after the huge losses Democrats suffered in the 2014 midterms.

But as we all know by now, the President decided he’d start a new pattern…one that saw his remaining two years as a “fourth quarter” in which he vowed to play to the end. His success in being able to do that hinged on several factors.

1. A scandal-free presidency

During my lifetime, no two-term president has managed to escape the drag of either scandal or terribly flawed policies at the end of their second term. Johnson had Vietnam. Nixon had Watergate. Reagan had Iran/Contra. Clinton had impeachment. Bush had the war in Iraq and the Great Recession.

Recently David Brooks noted that the current administration is the exception to that pattern.

I have my disagreements, say, with President Obama, but President Obama has run an amazingly scandal-free administration, not only he himself, but the people around him. He’s chosen people who have been pretty scandal-free.

That means that not only does the President maintain the good will of most Americans, but he doesn’t have to devote an inordinate amount of time to defending himself or attempting to fix policy failures.

2. Previous work is bearing fruit

Last December President Obama sat down for an interview with NPR’s Steve Inskeep. In response to questions about some of the bold moves he’d already taken since the 2014 midterms, the President said this:

But at the end of 2014, I could look back and say we are as well-positioned today as we have been in quite some time economically, that American leadership is more needed around the world than ever before — and that is liberating in the sense that a lot of the work that we’ve done is now beginning to bear fruit. And it gives me an opportunity then to start focusing on some of the other hard challenges that I didn’t always have the time or the capacity to get to earlier in my presidency.

The major things he is referring to are that the economy was recovering, healthcare reform was working and ground troops were out of both Iraq and Afghanistan. But in addition to all that, diplomacy had opened the doors in Cuba, brought Iran to the negotiating table and led to an agreement with China about climate change.

3. Pen and phone strategy

A lot of the assumption about President Obama’s pending lame duckness had to do with the intransigence of Congress that was only bolstered by the 2014 midterms. But in January of 2014, the President instructed his Cabinet to bring him ideas he could implement via executive order or through persuasion with business leaders and local/state governments. Thus began his “pen and phone” strategy that led to everything from DAPA to new rules for overtime pay to working with local governments to provide paid sick/family leave.

4. Big events

Political pundits are often guilty of assuming that whatever is happening today will be a permanent narrative. But national/international events have a way of changing the current dynamic. Nowhere has that been more evident than the handwringing over President Obama’s assumed irrelevance when House Democrats handed him a “humiliating” defeat on TPA a couple of weeks ago. We all know how that one turned out. Just as the House and Senate re-grouped to pass TPA, the events in Charleston, SC were unfolding and the Supreme Court was preparing to hand down rulings affirming Obamacare, marriage equality and disparate impact. As Michael Cohen wrote, we’ve recently been witness to ten days that turned America Into a better place. From an affirmation of his policies to his Amazing Grace eulogy, President Obama has been front and center on it all.

But big events can help or hurt a presidency. The lesson we should all learn from their recent trajectory is that things can change in a heartbeat. President Obama still has a year and a half to go. There are a few things we know are coming up, like whether or not he is able to work with Iran and P5+1 to reach a deal on nuclear weapons. This December we’ll learn whether or not the agreements the Obama administration has crafted with countries like China, India and now Brazil will lead to an international agreement on climate change at the UN Conference in Paris. Both of those would be historic achievements. And then, of course, there are the unknown events that could be on the horizon.

This may very well be the first time in the modern era that a sitting president has as much influence on a presidential campaign as any of the candidates who are running for office. The increasing size of the clown car on the Republican side means that it might be months before any one candidate is able to break through all the noise. That leaves the stage pretty wide open for a Democratic message. And Hillary Clinton has wisely chosen to run with President Obama and his record rather than against it. That means she’s looking pretty good right about now.

Whatever happens, this will be one for the history books as lame duckness is tossed aside and President Obama plays through to the end of the fourth quarter.

 

By: Nancy LeTourneau, Political Animal Blog, The Washington Monthly, July 1, 2015

July 2, 2015 Posted by | Congress, Lame Duck, President Obama | , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

“A Media Staple Under Bush”: Where Are The ‘Comeback’ Columns About Obama?

For a “lame duck” politician who’s supposed to be licking his wounds after the Democratic Party’s steep midterm losses, President Obama these days probably doesn’t mind scanning the headlines each morning. Instead of confirming the slow-motion demise so many in the pundit class had mapped out for him, the headlines paint a picture of a president, and a country, in many ways on the rebound:

U.S. Economic Confidence Index at 17-Month High

America is Free of Ebola Cases

G.O.P.-Led Benghazi Panel Bolsters Administration

What The Huge Drop In Gasoline Prices Means For America

Dow Hits Another Record Close

That’s probably more good news for Obama in one month than he had in the previous three combined.

And that selection of headlines doesn’t cover news of the most recent smooth and efficient enrollment period for the Affordable Care Act, the announcement of Obama’s executive action to deal with the languishing issue of immigration, his high-profile endorsement of net neutrality, or the United States’ landmark agreement with China to confront climate change.

As for Obama’s approval rating, it has remained steady in recent months, just as it has for virtually all of 2014. But aren’t lame ducks supposed to tumble after tough midterm defeats, the way President George W. Bush did right after the 2006 votes?

Meanwhile, the assumption that Republicans had boxed Obama in politically via their midterm momentum and would be able to bully him around (impeachment! a government shutdown!) hasn’t yet come to fruition. To date, their main response to the immigration executive order that Obama issued has been for Republicans to cast a symbolic vote of disapproval (i.e., Obama called their bluff).

Already the bloom seems to be coming off the GOP’s win. “According to the survey, 50 percent of Americans believe the GOP taking control of the House and the Senate next year will be bad for America,” CNN reported this week.

None of this is to say that Obama’s surging or that paramount hurdles don’t remain on the horizon. But some recent developments do undercut a widely held consensus in the Beltway press that Obama’s presidency effectively ended with the midterms and that his tenure might be viewed as a failed one.

Right after the election, a November Economist editorial announced, “Mr. Obama cannot escape the humiliating verdict on his presidency.” Glimmers of hope after the midterms were no reason to think Obama had “somehow crawled out of the dark place that voters put him,” the Washington Post assured readers. (Post columnist Dana Milbank has recently tagged Obama as a hapless “bystander” who’s “turning into George W. Bush.”) And a McClatchy Newspapers headline declared, “President Obama Is Now Truly A Lame Duck.”

But as the facts on the ground now change, many in the press seem reluctant to drop its preferred script and adjust to the headlines that suggest Obama’s second term is not shaping up to be the wreck so many pundits hinted it would be.

It’s worth noting that during Bush’s failed second term, which ended with his approval rating hovering around 20 percent, the same Beltway press did the opposite. Back then the press appeared overly anxious to proclaim a Bush comeback underway. Unlike Obama who’s actually rebounding, the D.C. press often touted Bush’s comeback, even though one never materialized.

At the time of the 2006 midterm elections, NBC’s Chuck Todd predicted that “if Democrats get control of Congress, President Bush’s approval rating will be over 50 percent by the Fourth of July next year.” Democrats did win the House and the Senate in 2006, but Todd’s predication was off — by 20 points. Bush was floundering with a 30 percent approval rating on Independence Day, 2007.

Todd was hardly alone. Earlier in 2005, Time got a quick jump on the Bush-is-back competition, announcing that the president had “found his voice” and that relieved White House aides “were smiling again” after a turbulent 2005. That year, according to the Gallup numbers, Bush’s approval rating remained submerged, falling as low as 31 percent. When it briefly climbed to 40 percent, the Baltimore Sun quickly asked, “Is Bush The New Comeback Kid?”

Even when Bush’s approval rating trended down again after the Republicans’ 2006 midterm wipeout, pundits were back on the hunt for the elusive comeback. In early 2007, Washington Post columnist David Broder, the dean of the Beltway press corps, typed up the White House spin and claimed, “It may seem perverse to suggest that, at the very moment the House of Representatives is repudiating his policy in Iraq, President Bush is poised for a political comeback. But don’t be astonished if that is the case.” Broder was sure, “Bush now shows signs of renewed energy and is regaining the initiative on several fronts.” Thirteen months later, Broder finally conceded the Bush comeback hadn’t materialized. (In fact, the opposite had unfolded.)

The media’s “comeback” double standard seems to reflect the misguided Beltway consensus that America’s a center-right country, so of course it was only a matter of time before Bush regained his footing (he didn’t) and that Obama would likely fade away during his second term (he hasn’t).

 

By: Eric Boehlert, Media Matters for America, December 4, 2014

 

December 7, 2014 Posted by | D.C. Press Corp, Lame Duck, Media | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

   

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