The media is settling on a new narrative about President Obama. It’s always interesting watching one after another join in that process. For example, Timothy Egan calls it Obama Unbound.
Perhaps the best thing to happen to him [Obama] was the crushing blow his party took in the midterm elections. Come January, Republicans will have their largest House majority in 84 years — since Herbert Hoover was president. Granted, no politician wants to join Hoover and history in the same sentence. But Obama is not cowering or conceding. He’s been liberated by defeat, becoming the president that many of his supporters hoped he would be.
He promised to be transformative. Instead, especially in the last two years, he’s been listless, passive, a spectator to his own presidency. Rather than setting things in motion, he reacted to events. Even Ebola, the great scare that prompted so much media hysteria it was awarded Lie of the Year by PolitiFact, was somehow his fault. No more. Of late, the president who has nothing to lose has discovered that his best friend is the future.
Glenn Thrush calls it Operation Revenge.
“He needs to run, to compete – or more to the point, he needs someone to run against,” a former top Obama adviser told me.
He’s got that now, in a Republican-controlled Capitol Hill. Obama, a political counterpuncher who often needs a slap in the face to wake up, got a gut-shot in November. The Democrats’ staggering loss in the midterms – like his disastrous performance in the first presidential debate against Mitt Romney in 2012 – seems to have jolted him to the realization that he’ll have to act boldly to preserve what he’d assumed was a settled legacy.
The trouble with this kind of analysis is that it is ahistorical. Every one of the things these pundits name as an example of the President’s newfound persona – executive actions on immigration, new EPA rules, climate change agreement with China, Russian sanctions, normalization of our relationship with Cuba – has been in the works for at least the last 1-2 years (during the time he was supposedly a listless, passive spectator). Back in January of this year, he announced his intention to implement the “pen and phone strategy” we’re all witnessing unfold.
President Barack Obama offered a brief preview Tuesday of his State of the Union address, telling his Cabinet that he won’t wait for Congress to act on key agenda items in 2014.
“I’ve got a pen, and I’ve got a phone,” he said at his first Cabinet meeting of the year. Outlining the strategy, Obama said he plans to use his pen to sign executive actions and his phone to convene outside groups in support of his agenda if Congress proves unable or unwilling to act on his priorities.
It’s true that President Obama might have a new lightness in his step. But that could just as well be because he’s finally off for a much-needed vacation in Hawaii with his family. Anyone who has really watched this President operate knows that he plays the long game. Here’s how Michelle Obama described that back in 2011.
Here’s the thing about my husband: even in the toughest moments, when it seems like all is lost, Barack Obama never loses sight of the end goal. He never lets himself get distracted by the chatter and the noise, even if it comes from some of his best supporters. He just keeps moving forward.
And in those moments when we’re all sweating it, when we’re worried that the bill won’t pass or the negotiation will fall through, Barack always reminds me that we’re playing a long game here. He reminds me that change is slow — it doesn’t happen overnight.
If we keep showing up, if we keep fighting the good fight and doing what we know is right, then eventually we will get there.
We always have.