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2013: Not As Bad As You Think

Memo Pad Politics

2013: Not As Bad As You Think


WASHINGTON — “Has this been the worst year of your presidency?”

It was a heck of a way for President Obama to wrap up 2013. In asking the question at the president’s year-end news conference, Julie Pace of The Associated Press captured several things at once: the reality of a genuinely disappointing year for Obama; a mood of skepticism in the media about him; the inevitability of Beltway scorekeeping; and the personalization of nearly everything in politics.

Obama, for good reason, avoided a direct answer. But I’d suggest that 2013 was not his worst year. That distinction should be reserved for 2011, when the president emerged from the summer looking weak after protracted negotiations with House Republicans over a debt-ceiling increase.

Obama was operating from a position of fear. Faced with a GOP buoyed by its 2010 election victories and still intoxicated by insurrectionary Tea Party spirits, he believed Republicans might well be willing to pull the nation’s financial house down by refusing to raise the debt limit. This forced him to accept the long-term budget cuts in the “sequester” that to this day severely constrain his ability to innovate in policy — and largely lock in place a fiscal policy that’s holding back the economic recovery.

The year 2013 was better than that. It’s true that the health care website fiasco threatened to engulf Obama’s signature achievement. And Obamacare will undergo new tests in the coming year. The site’s “back end” problems in connecting with insurance companies could create more bad news in January as some who thought they had bought policies discover that their purchases failed to go through.

But the website’s troubles were fixable, and it’s remarkable that the repair has gone as quickly as it has. Next year, millions who were never insured will have purchased plans on the exchanges or received coverage through the Medicaid expansion. Republicans are quite confident that Obamacare will still be unpopular come next fall’s elections. Obama has at least a fighting chance to prove them wrong.

Moreover, something else happened this year that may, over time, prove far more important than the great website flop. In 2013, the Tea Party began to decline in both real and perceived power, and Republicans began a slow retreat from the politics of absolutism.

In this fall’s budget fight, Obama did not blink and Democrats did not break ranks when House Speaker John Boehner bowed to Tea Party pressure to shut down the government. The public was furious. Republicans plummeted in the polls and eventually gave in.

E. J. Dionne

Besides contributing to The National Memo, E.J. Dionne, Jr. is a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, a syndicated columnist for the Washington Post, and a university professor in the Foundations of Democracy and Culture at Georgetown University.

His most recent book is Our Divided Political Heart: The Battle for the American Idea in an Age of Discontent (2013).

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  1. Betty Hazelwood December 30, 2013

    2014 will be the yesr of the GOP demise….I for one am tired of their stall tactics and games…it’s about the people you nimrods…..it is NOT ABOUT YOU….GET YOUR BACKSTABBING LAZY ASSES TO WORK NOW….FOR THE PEOPLE!!

    1. angelsinca January 1, 2014

      The Republican Demise was supposed to have already happened in ’08 and again in ’12. Yet, the polls continue to indicate increasing dissatisfaction with Democrats, this president, Obamacare, and the flat economy. The people must all be nimrods.

      1. Betty Hazelwood January 1, 2014


  2. bck2yu December 30, 2013

    Excellent points! In the midst of an otherwise doom&gloom opinion
    barrage, you have offered a bright and far more accurate perspective
    on the president’s efforts…and the far-Right’s losing battle to enforce
    ideology over sensibility.
    Thank you, EJ!

  3. sigrid28 December 30, 2013

    Setting the course for diplomatic resolution in Iran and Syria will be counted as signature achievements for President Obama in 2013, particularly because he was able to establish that the majority in the U.S. reject military intervention. The administration showed its ability to negotiate even with avowed detractors such as Vladimir Putin in the cause of diplomatic solutions, in Syria in particular. The New York Times coverage of the attack on the mission in Benghazi refutes the claim that there was any cover-up related to this unalloyed tragedy that Republicans have sought all year to exploit for political purposes. Republicans still don’t care about what really happened, but I think many Americans who care about the outcome of transition in the Middle East care about the full truth and can see that the Obama administration does as well.

  4. sigrid28 December 30, 2013

    A more nuanced approach to Russian-U.S. relations, developed throughout 2013, is represented both by the president’s willingness to shake Putin’s hand in the context of international negotiations and by Obama’s open challenge to Putin on LGBT policy in Russia in the context of the 2014 Olympics.

  5. jmprint December 30, 2013

    Put your head up President Obama, you are doing a find job. No one could have done better with the obstructions you have endured. In my book you have the title of being the best President so far. Keep up the good work. Americans have your back, don’t buckle to the TP assholes. WE BELIEVE-IN GOING FORWARD. If we can make this a better world for underprivileged, it will be a better world for our children’s future. May God Bless you and your family in 2014.

  6. Eleanore Whitaker December 30, 2013

    If you really want to slash and burn the GOP, demand a national ballot on the question of whether or not corporate tax cuts, breaks and subsidies should be tied to hiring and jobs creation. It really is that simple. The GOP House majority made certain all the porker states got those “projected” annual subsidies totaling $50 billion of your tax dollars. How much of that will be used to create jobs here in the US or to hire?

    Sorry, but it’s long past time for reciprocity where your tax dollars are concerned. If the DOL cannot come up with monthly figures on which of the porker corporations took funding and then didn’t hire or create jobs, it’s time to stop protecting the US’s filthiest profitable corporations from suffering the normal ups and downs ALL businesses once suffered but now have your iron clad protection via your tax dollars that never go down..only up and up and up.

  7. Eleanore Whitaker December 30, 2013

    How is $50 billion handed to 4 of the US’s top corporations in 2013 not corporate welfare and corporate socialism? These are our tax dollars being wastefully spent by the House GOP majority. And it’s all to keep power in the hands of control freaks like Charles and David Koch and a handful of the 1% who believe they are all too entitled to “wealth” they can only get by stiffing consumers with price gouging, stiffing employees by dumping the cost of employee benefits onto employees and by stiffing taxpayers from whom they are protected against all manner of normal business trends, up or down.

    1. idamag December 30, 2013

      50 Billionaire companies have purchased land so they can harvest money from the government subsidies. They have taken more than $500,000 apiece from the program.

      1. Eleanore Whitaker December 30, 2013

        The danger of allowing mass purchases of land in the US by billionaires will do one thing and one only: Create those highly prized Billionaire fifedoms they are hot to establish. First, it was reducing Middle Class salaries to meet that of foreign workers. Now, it’s buy up land so they can OWN towns and destroy the Constitution and voice of the people. If this isn’t a sign of weapons of mass destruction, I can’t imagine what more anyone needs for proof.

        1. idamag December 31, 2013

          It is one of those things that sneaks up on people and they moan the happening/

    2. Dominick Vila December 30, 2013

      Eleanore, hopefully you realize that you just committed sacrilege and violated the most basic tenets in the GOP play book. Redistribution of wealth is only evil when it flows down. Handouts to the top 1% is wise economic stimuli, especially when it was not proposed by President Obama…

    3. Lovefacts December 30, 2013

      I agree with the Republicans, let’s get rid of entitlements. Here are few of them:.
      1. Oil & gas subsidies
      2. Corporate farm subsidies
      3. Tax perks that only benefit the wealthy
      4. Supporting companies via tax incentives that outsource our jobs.
      5. Taxing unearned income at a lower rate than earned income b/c it’s seen as worthy

      1. idamag December 30, 2013

        You notice they did not mention those entitlements.

  8. daniel bostdorf December 30, 2013

    2013 was a horror show for this country in terms of what E.J. Dionne stated was the attempt by the extreme fascistic forces of the GOP/Teaparty House to essentially take over this country. The rise of right wing demogues and their propaganda media machine Karl Rove talking points was scary….even scarier is the fact that “mainstream media” still fails to aggressively point our facts from propaganda and lies.

    “Curtailing the influence of the extreme wing of the Republican Party
    certainly did not make Congress productive. ”

    You think?

    I am not as optimistic as E.J. when it comes to these right wing forces fading….We must remain ever on guard for the continuation of these extreme forces funded by Koch brothers.

    2014 must see the American people rise up against this tyranny from the right, tyranny from the NSA, and tyranny by the Supreme Court ie “Citizens United.”

    Let’s start by repealing the “Patriot Act” and restore the Bill of Rights of our Constitution.

    1. idamag December 30, 2013

      We have to remember when they are quite they are regrouping.

      1. daniel bostdorf December 30, 2013

        As Pacino states in Devils Advocate “never let them see you coming”

        Quiet is scary…

  9. clarenceswinney December 30, 2013

    TRy Obama achievements.org

    1. Independent1 December 30, 2013

      Here’s an Obama accomplishments link that really lists them – many I wasn’t aware of:


      1. daniel bostdorf December 30, 2013

        Thanks independent…we have 2 trolls here already reported to editors…

  10. sparky086 December 30, 2013

    My Uncle William recently got an almost new
    yellow Honda Crosstour Hatchback by working at home online… this link

    1. daniel bostdorf December 30, 2013


  11. Fresh Mountain Air December 31, 2013

    Whether or not someone imposes their will upon someone else is an issue much different from whether or not we can choose wisely among the options before us.

    1. daniel bostdorf December 31, 2013

      you posted the same troll crap on October 16th 2013…

      user name then—–Defend Liberty
      Whether or not someone imposes
      their will upon someone else is an issue much different from whether or
      not we can choose wisely among the options before us.

      1. angelsinca January 1, 2014

        Don ‘t make waves. Think only happy thoughts. Non-Democrat thought will be reported. Opposing view will not be tolerated. All disagreement will be silenced. Report all trolls immediately, comrad.

        1. daniel bostdorf January 1, 2014

          Do you have anything constructive to post about the topic of 2013 not as bad as you think?

          No you dont. Just being a distraction, disruptive and a fool with your post are you not?

          Free exchange of ideas of all types is fine. Trolls are not.

          So—quit “bullying” people here with your off topic rant.

          1. angelsinca January 1, 2014

            I came here to comment on the article. All I saw was Bostdorf ‘s rant defending the bullying practices of exclusion. Look in the mirror, scout.

          2. daniel bostdorf January 1, 2014

            It is amazing how you continue to prove my point.

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