Cast your mind back, if you can bear it, to the frenetic last days of the campaign in the mid-terms. The world, the GOP kept insisting, was coming undone – and everything was Obama’s fault. Somehow, Obama had fumbled the response to Ebola, letting infected people into the country, and risking a huge and fatal pandemic. At the same time, ISIS represented a grave threat to American security, was expanding with no limits in sight, proving that Obama had lost Iraq or thrown “victory” away in an act of reckless disengagement. And for good measure, Russia’s Putin was running rings around the president, creating a new world order in the Caucasus, while Obama fecklessly wrung his hands.
As a piece of political performance art, you have to hand it to the Republicans. They rolled up so many base-tingling themes into one hellish, end-times scenario: Obama as Carter, unable to stand up to the
Funny, isn’t it, that almost all these themes evaporated after the election. And we now, moreover, have more time and evidence to judge how the president has responded to these different, emergent challenges. There have been no new Ebola cases in the US since the election; and the demon doctor who went bowling is now cured...Concern about Ebola seems to be acutely timed to election campaigns. Afterwards? No longer that worried.
Then the campaign against ISIS. I’m still opposed to what the administration has done. But it behooves me to note today’s key measure of real progress – the new Iraqi prime minister’s deal with the Kurds on oil revenues...This is the easy part, compared with an attempt to include the currently revolting Sunnis into a genuinely multi-sectarian government, and to roll back the territorial gains of the Islamic State. But it’s a start.
Russia, meanwhile, is headed for an outright recession next year, hobbled by sanctions and the collapsing oil price (caused in part by America’s shale oil revolution in the Obama years). Now, as with Ebola and ISIS, there are obvious caveats. Obama’s successful cornering of Putin could mean the dictator could get even more reckless; Ukraine remains torn apart in the East. But from the perspective of now, does Putin seem the stronger strategist or does Obama?
I point this out because the conservative media-industrial complex is really about delivering news that can work as political messaging. When the news doesn’t fit that template, they move swiftly on to something else that does. But reality tells us something different: that you should judge a presidency not by short-term panics, but by long term progress in the face of contingent events. Six years after the worst recession since the 1930s, we have accelerating growth, a collapsing deficit, falling healthcare costs and universal health insurance; a decade after the Federal Marriage Amendment, we have over 30 states with marriage equality; six years since Obama took office, we have the toughest new carbon regulations yet on the books and an agreement with China.