The Politico Premise

The magazine of the website has a somewhat classic, fifth-year piece on how a president can get his mojo back – or if a nine-point decline in the polls in one year is an irretrievable position in a second term. What’s interesting is that, in order to sustain this narrative, you have to describe a scenario which would be success, so as to contrast it with what pundits would call failure. And so we get this sentence:

The next six months could be decisive: If the president can’t move past the Obamacare debacle to reset the agenda through executive action and targeted legislative campaigns on climate change, immigration and the minimum wage, he might never be able to regain his footing.

Now maybe Glenn Thrush is correct and these are the areas in which to judge this presidency over the next year. But it seems likelier to me that these are merely the areas in which the Beltway will try to judge his presidency, because they can posit something that should have happened that hasn’t. But, in reality, much has already been set. If the ACA survives and sticks and even works, then the next three years will not be about “moving past” the Obamacare debacle, but about making sure that near-universal access to healthcare is now standard for the US. By any measure in history, that would be a seismic achievement, a watershed in the social history of the United States. But within the Politico timeline, it means close to nothing at all. Ditto a potential detente with Iran – which will be decided in the next year or so. Again, if a comprehensive deal is achieved and sticks, the Middle East is transformed, and the full response of the Obama presidency to the crime of 9/11 – and the acute religious polarization that followed – will become clearer. But again, this defining event isn’t even in the sight-lines of Politico at all.

And what does a “targeted legislative campaign” mean?

If the GOP House wants to, it can stop anything the president wants – and it has, again and again and again and again. So is he going to sneak through a raise in the minimum wage? C’mon. Immigration reform, meanwhile, is still on the table, the president has clearly taken the side of reform, while the GOP has doggedly resisted any constructive change at all. And the Politico question of the next year is: what can Obama do to somehow make this happen? Surely the apposite question is what can the GOP do to make this issue less of a threat to their standing as a national party? And the odds there are that in the run-up to the next general election, the first real internal pressure will come to bear on the Congressional GOP on the issue. And if reform then gets passed in Obama’s final year, that will count against him?

Look: I know we have to churn out copy and I do so myself on a daily basis. But sometimes, what’s striking about Washington is how the long-term shifts in policy and culture we are now going through are almost perfectly mismatched with the press’ ever-more-intense short-term perspective.