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Is it too late for Obama?

Obama’s sinking approval numbers one year into his second term have led some observers to conclude that the presidency has seen its best days.  For the first time, the President’s “trustworthy” factor is deficient, and talk of the second-term curse has already made its way into the daily media jargon. 

The Obamacare computer glitch has since been compared to Bush’s Katrina—and because it is the president’s signature achievement, pundit talk has already surfaced about a failed presidency. We in Canada have always liked Barack Obama and hoped he would be a successful president, but now many are asking, “Is it too late for Obama?”

Clearly, this has been a difficult year for the Obama administration–the IRS targeting of the Tea Party, a return on the Benghazi fiasco, the Edward Snowden and National Security Agency (NSA) surveillance controversy, the government shutdown in September, and the failed Obamacare rollout.

As we are about to enter 2014, midterm elections and potential lame-duck status for the sitting president are on the horizon. Some of it is self-inflicted, but despite the Republicans’ failed strategy related to the government shutdown, they still believe that they have cornered Obama and ensured for themselves a pathway to maintaining the House and capturing the Senate next November. Only winning the White House in 2016 would remain to complete the trifecta.

While the GOP has some grounds for optimism with respect to the upcoming electoral rendez-vous in 2014 and 2016, it is still too early to count Obama and the Democrats out. The economy is maintaining its growth in a modest but steady way, and we know that still remains the primary concern for voters. The confrontation expected on the deficit and debt ceiling issues after the holidays will once again be an opportunity for Obama to hold his ground. He won handily in September.

Finally, the actual problem with Obamacare seems to be more related to computer malfunction than to a widespread policy rejection. The next few months may actually provide an occasion for presidential leadership and gains on the domestic front. We can expect the issue of immigration reform to once again become a central focus in the upcoming election year.  The House of Representatives, under Speaker John Boehner, refused to consider the immigration billed passed by the Senate this year.  Although Republicans are divided by Tea Party advocates’ opposition, some Republicans who see electoral gain in adopting immigration reform to win the growing Hispanic vote may choose to coalesce with Democrats in the House and force Boehner’s hand. Obama may conceivably have an opening for a breakthrough on a subject affecting America’s social and economic future. 

Immigration reform could become the signature achievement of Obama’s second term. We can concede that the Republicans will not make life any easier for Obama, but given the current electoral map and changing demographics, it may be more difficult for the Republicans to win the Senate and the White House without some kind of immigration reform. A less polarizing approach on this subject may actually make the GOP more competitive in 2016. Political reality and ambitions have a way of changing behavior.

As is often the case in second terms, presidents direct their attention to foreign policy and national security. Here, Obama seems to have made the most promising gains. The chemical weapons deal with Syria (with Russia’s help), the startup of negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority, the security deal with Afghanistan, and the recent interim deal with Iran regarding its nuclear program have the potential to transform the politics of the Middle East in ways unseen in decades.

The so-called energy revolution, which will probably lead America to assume the role of the world’s largest oil producer by 2015, is expected to do a lot to transform the American economy in the medium and long-term. American innovation continues to be a competitive advantage for the nation, and allied with this growing energy independence, it is certain Obama will end his presidency with a much stronger and promising economy than when he took office.

Granted, failure to make gains on gun control and climate change initiatives will be seen as disappointments in the second term of the Obama administration.  However, a stronger economy, successful application of health care reform, greater national security, pay equity for women, gains in the foreign policy area, no direct combat role in a foreign war, a safer homeland, saving the auto industry, eliminating Bin Laden, growing energy independence—and maybe, immigration reform—could be more than enough for Obama to recover in time and have his presidency seen as a successful one.

*John Parisella is the former Québec delegate general in New York and currently a visiting professor at the University of Montréal’s International Relations Center. He is also a Member of the Board of Directors of The Montreal Council on Foreign Relations.

Any opinions expressed in this piece do not necessarily reflect those of Americas Quarterly or its publishers.
Tags: Barack Obama, Barack Obama policy

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