Washington Merry-Go-Round

The duck that roared

IMMEDIATE RELEASE 24 December 2014

WASHINGTON MERRY-GO-ROUND

Today’s Events in Historical Perspective

America’s Longest-Running Column, Founded 1932

The duck that roared

By Douglas Cohn and Eleanor Clift

WASHINGTON – The White House says President Obama had a “milestone year,” and that’s true if your calendar starts after the November election. Republicans scored big in the midterms, and Obama was written off as a lame duck. Now he’s the duck that roared.

In the last week, his approval rating shot up 7 points to 48 percent, just shy of the 50 percent tipping point to ward off lame duckery.  The economy is beginning to show real strength with third quarter growth at an annualized 5 percent rivaling China’s growth rate.

Gas prices are way down, and analysts predict an energy independent future for the U.S., which would shift the politics of the Middle East away from the oil barons and potentially toward a more stable future for the region.

The Ebola crisis has been contained, and ISIS, the self-proclaimed Islamic state, hasn’t made any new gains. It’s way too early to declare victory in any of these areas, but No-Drama Obama’s cautious approach appears to be paying off in his foreign policy.

Even Russian President Putin isn’t looking like a winner anymore. Sanctions have taken their toll on the Russian economy. The ruble has collapsed while the dollar climbs, an apt metaphor for the two leaders’ standing.

If the midterms were held now instead of when ISIS and Ebola were raging, there might have been a different result. The GOP would have been left with its lame promise to repeal Obamacare, which is helping millions of people receive health care insurance for the first time. The rate of spending on medical care has slowed, and premiums are not increasing at the rate critics predicted in large part because more competition has been introduced, something Republicans should favor.

The stock market broke 18,000 this week, a historic high highlighting both a recovering economy and the disparity between the haves at the upper end of the income scale and the have-nots in the middle class, whose wages have been stagnant for at least the last two decades.

It’s that disparity that prevents Obama from taking a full victory lap. And it’s that disparity that will frame the 2016 Democratic primaries, and the presidential election. Obama has given his potential successor on the Democratic side a valuable lesson in leadership.

There’s no political payoff for standing on the sidelines and letting your critics and even your friends pummel you for lack of leadership. The losses in 2014 sent Obama a message, and that message was to start acting like a leader, remember why you were elected, and take some risks to fulfill your agenda.

The deal with China to limit greenhouse gases, achieved after the November election, is the first time China has agreed to allow any outside power set environmental standards. It’s a start to combatting what scientists believe is an existential threat to the planet.

Obama’s executive order on immigration has the Republicans reeling. They don’t like what he did, but can’t figure out how to roll back a policy that begins to solve a longstanding problem of 11 million people in the country illegally, who aren’t going to leave, and who contribute to the economy.

The new Republican Congress hasn’t yet been sworn in, and they’ve got a full plate. Do they really want to spend the time rolling back Obama’s policies?

Climate change policy and immigration are hot-button issues on the Republican side. They may decide to leave well enough alone. An early test case will be Cuba. Republicans threaten to withhold money for an embassy in Havana, and to block confirmation of an ambassador to Cuba. Most Americans think the embargo should have been lifted a long time ago, and Obama in the fourth quarter of his presidency has the country with him, and not only on Cuba.

Some duck; some roar.

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© 2014 U.S. News Syndicate, Inc.

Distributed by U.S. News Syndicate, Inc.

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