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Saturday, December 10, 2016

For more than six years, as conservatives have stewed and raged and taken their spoils in midterm elections, liberals have been living through a relatively golden age. By that I mean they know they will wake up to a president who doesn’t make them want to put their fist through a wall. Most days.

It is still some 18 months before President Obama leaves office, an eternity if you have been gritting your teeth since January 2009 but a blink in time for those of us who liked many of his ideas back then, and still do. This sense of a fleeting moment was driven home to me as I listened to Obama make his case Wednesday at American University for the Iran nuclear deal.

What a balm it was to hear him suggest, amid bellicose 2016 rhetoric, that Americans “worry less about being labeled weak, worry more about getting it right.” To hear him say that “a nuclear-armed Iran is far more dangerous … than an Iran that benefits from sanctions relief.” That the Iran deal is less risky than the Kennedy and Reagan deals with the Soviet Union, which put constraints on the U.S. arsenal, and that “our military remains the ultimate backstop” to any diplomatic agreement.

Obviously, Obama has his flaws and can exasperate even his devotees. But here are three predictions: First, he’s going to be much missed when he’s gone by people who may not appreciate him now. Second, that will be true even if Hillary Clinton wins the presidency and continues many of his policies — because she’ll inevitably bring drama and controversy of the sort we’ve been spared during the Obama years. Third, a Republican may well be elected by attacking Obama across the board, but once in office that new GOP president will probably keep most of it in place and be secretly grateful it’s off the table.

There are some signs that Democrats are beginning to recognize the moment and perhaps the man. Last month, Gallup reported that Democrats had “reclaimed” the favorability edge over Republicans that they lost following a thrashing in the November 2014 midterm elections. The party’s favorable rating is now 42 percent, versus 35 percent for the GOP. Obama’s rating hovers in the mid-40s — not stellar, but well above the low 30s posted by George W. Bush at this stage of his presidency.

Perhaps even more indicative is the way Democratic presidential candidates are embracing Obama. On his 54th birthday this week, Clinton tweeted a picture of herself and Obama smiling at each other and wrote, “To a dear friend, a great boss, and my second favorite president: Happy birthday @POTUS! — H.” And he received multiple shout-outs at the Iowa Democratic Party Hall of Fame Dinner last month.

Former Rhode Island governor Lincoln Chafee said “President Obama and his team” deserved a big hand for the Iran nuclear deal and reopening relations with Cuba. And Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders said Obama “did something extraordinary the other day. He had the courage to go to a federal jail and talk about the absurdity of a criminal justice system” that puts 1 in 4 black men behind bars.

The economic praise was also fulsome. Clinton said the country is “standing again” after the financial crisis thanks to “President Obama’s leadership and the determination of the American people.” Former Maryland governor Martin O’Malley said America had elected Obama to “move us forward” from the brink of a depression, “and that is exactly what President Obama has done.”

The facts bear that out. The unemployment rate is now 5.3 percent, down from a high of 10 percent in October 2009. The U.S. job creation index — Gallup’s comparison of workplaces that are hiring versus those that are shrinking, based on more than 17,000 interviews in July alone — is in its third month of a record high. And the U.S. auto industry, six years after its controversial rescue by the administration, is headed for a 14-year high in annual vehicle sales. Ford just reported its best July sales since 2006.

Beyond the numbers, Obama helped set the stage for broad advances in gay rights, from military service to marriage. He is moving aggressively on climate change, on criminal justice and policing reforms, and on outdated overtime rules that suppress pay for many low-income workers. The Affordable Care Act, with its health insurance protections and expansions, looks like it’s here to stay. Congressional opposition seems increasingly unlikely to derail the deal to curb Iran’s nuclear program. There are even signs that newly re-established relations with Cuba could lead to lifting the 55-year-old trade embargo.

With policies that remedy the past and usher in the future, Obama has already done many favors for the president who will be inaugurated in January 2017. The Democrats know it and the Republicans won’t admit it.

Follow Jill Lawrence on Twitter @JillDLawrence. To find out more about Jill Lawrence and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.

Photo: President Obama pauses during remarks on a nuclear deal with Iran at American University in Washington August 5, 2015. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst