Only two weeks after the world ended for Democrats and President Barack Obama became a lame duck awaiting orders from a Republican-controlled House and Senate, that script is beginning to fray.
The president has refused to see any rebuke or mandate in the midterm elections, and he shouldn’t. It was an election run on a GOP-friendly map. It drew the lowest turnout in 72 years, and Republicans ran on nothing. Democrats compounded their losses by running away from the president and likewise offering nothing.
Obama, far from being rendered irrelevant or subservient, has a new energetic spirit supported by the momentum of U.S. economic progress that is surging ahead of nations east and west.
Last week, the president came out strong for net neutrality, a stand favored by a majority of Democrats and Republicans.
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Then the news was leaked that Obama will ignore Republican threats and go ahead with executive action that could shield as many as 5 million undocumented immigrants from deportation. Republicans are thinking about a government shutdown in response. With that, they could alienate not only Hispanics but also most of the nation. Declaring the executive action on immigration an illegal overreach is another of the GOP’s false alarms. Both Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H. W. Bush issued similar executive orders on immigration and met not a peep of protest.
A president’s positives
Meanwhile, Obama spent a good week abroad. He achieved a major agreement with China on climate change and pledged $3 billion to help developing nations control their carbon emissions. Then he met in Brisbane, Australia, with leaders of the Group of 20 major economies and urged them to invest more to spur growth. He was leading by example. His economic policies produced 3.5 percent growth last quarter. China’s economic growth has slowed. Europe, which embraced spending cuts and austerity, is teetering on a return to a recession. Japan has officially entered one.
And there are other things. U.S. unemployment has fallen to its lowest level since January 2008 (though wages remain stubbornly stagnant). The stock market has hit a record high. The annual budget deficit, the obsession of the tea party, has fallen from nearly 10 percent of the economy in 2009 to 2.8 percent of the economy in the fiscal year that ended Sept. 30. And one other thing: The Affordable Care Act started its second year of open enrollments with a smoothly operating website. One hundred thousand people completed applications on the first day of enrollment on Saturday.
There’s another positive development that Obama can’t take credit for but certainly would be blamed for if it were opposite: Gas prices are falling sharply. The national average price for a gallon of gas recently dropped below $3 for the first time since 2010. That will give U.S. consumers a windfall just in time for Christmas shopping.
Signs of real progress
And what about the other developments that triggered Republican alarms?
Ebola has not become a menace in the United States. People infected here were identified and successfully treated. Public health officials knew what they were doing here without sealing off borders and banning travelers from certain countries. And the U.S. is carrying out a promising drive to contain and eliminate Ebola in West Africa.
Russian strongman Vladimir Putin pushing around an indecisive Obama? Not exactly. Russia’s economy was already being hammered by falling oil prices. Now Putin’s adventures in Crimea and Ukraine have brought on Western sanctions. The Russian ruble lost a quarter of its value this year, and prices are rising sharply.
Central American children flooding the border? The crisis has been met, the influx stemmed and the children are being properly treated and either placed in this country with relatives or returned to their country of origin.
ISIS? Still a frightening force that continues to issue horrific videos of beheadings, but ISIS is being engaged by airstrikes, and the United States is training fighters in Iraq to resist. Calls to send U.S. troops back to the region have not been heeded.
There are plenty of problems in the United States, but Obama is doing what a president can to address them. Despite Republican the-sky-is-falling shouts, there are signs of real progress on the economy and a growing desire among Americans for a government that will act on their behalf.