December 31, 2013
By John Zogby
As President Obama vacations in Hawaii for a couple of weeks, the end of year reviews are coming in from the Washington Press Corps. And the reviews are not kind. I recommend that we look at Mr. Obama’s year not from the standpoint of expectations or historical comparisons but, rather, in terms of actual results. And I will start with his polling numbers, which while not good, are also not in the tank.
As I write this, his approval rating average is 42%, nothing to brag about but far from the 20s and 30s where Presidents like Truman, Nixon, Carter and both Bushes found themselves during their tenure.
Now, let’s examine the record.
The horrible war in Syria continues and, while there is little the U.S. or any other power can do to stop the atrocities on both sides, Syrian chemical weapons are actually being destroyed. An accomplishment.
Following 34 years of hostility, the U.S. and other powers have negotiated an Iran nuclear deal that promises to limit Iran’s nuclear capabilities, unless Iran wants to lose all hope of limiting sanctions that are strangling its economy. Both sides are talking, there is a path to a bigger deal, and thus far the risks are all on the Iranian side.
The unemployment rate stands at 7%, down a full three percentage points from January 2009. Slow but real economic growth continues and economists project a decline in the unemployment rate to 6% to 6.2% by mid-2014, along with GDP growth up to 3%, the highest in years.
As with Iran, no final deal yet but there were also successful negotiations between two even more intractable enemies – Democrats and Republicans – averting another government shutdown for at least two years.
Long-term implications are one thing, but the President and his allies in the Senate figured out a way to prevent gridlock on his court appointments. Was it Presidential leadership or tyranny? It depends on who you are talking to. But it is not the weakness of a lame duck.
Obamacare is alive, signing up tens of thousands (perhaps up to two million by the end of the year), and will not be repealed.
As of this writing, a federal district judge in Washington has declared that the NSA policy of eavesdropping and bundling call records is legal. This will no doubt head to the Supreme Court but, at the end of the year, the Obama administration is a winner.
And, as always, the President is helped by the fact that he is playing against the worst team in the major leagues. Ratings for the GOP in Congress are at polling record lows.
To be sure, not all is rosy at the end of Mr. Obama’s fifth year. On the down side: Egypt and Syria are potential tinder boxes; too many Americans are either unemployed or underemployed; the national debt is impossibly high and growing with no real plan to reduce it; the miserable rollout for Mr. Obama’s signature health care legislation did real damage and he further damaged public trust by either lying about it or not knowing what he was talking about; and his popularity is down double digits from his re-election performance one year ago.
But the outlook for 2014 suggests that immigration reform in some form will pass (because both parties need it to pass) and Rep. Paul Ryan and Sen. Patty Murray are still talking.
All in all, it was not a good year – but for Mr. Obama there were some real accomplishments. It was truly not a bad year for the record books.