It would be easy to imagine President Mitt Romney’s first year-end press conference beginning with a question like, “Mr. President, which do you consider your greatest accomplishment, the record stock market, the nearly unprecedented deficit reduction or the best year for job growth since 2005?”
Instead, President Obama’s last press conference of 2013 was mostly about getting the president to admit that he’d had a terrible year, in hopes he might curl up into a ball and beg Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) to save freedom.
Of course, a Democratic president shouldn’t be celebrating skyrocketing returns for investors that go almost entirely to the richest—who have never been richer—or deficit reduction when millions are still out of work. And it wasn’t until the end of the year that job growth also started to include some wage growth.
But by key Republican metrics, 2013 was a banner year for the president.
Instead of noting this, Republicans are celebrating their success at helping to turn public opinion against President Obama in his fifth year in office.
After years of trying to conjure a scandal for this White House, Republicans were even eager to attack the president from the left on Syria and government surveillance. The right-wing media amplified the complaints of the small group of “anti-war” Republicans not because they were rejecting the warmongering and abuses of power of the Bush administration, but to score points against a man they despise for beating them soundly — twice. This specious strategy became obvious when the administration’s sudden progress toward disarming Syria — and Iran — was met with silence or the sorry trope of “appeasement.”
Regardless, the president did the most damage to himself this year with the launch of HealthCare.gov, which shook the nation’s confidence as it sputtered and crashed for two whole, crucial months. Now that the site is working for most people and millions have signed up for health insurance, Republicans are hoping they’ll be able to make 2014 about the failings of Obamacare.
The chances of another HealthCare.gov-sized fiasco are minimal, so the focus will be on making the inevitable troubling anecdotes of reform drown out the droves of people with health coverage for the first time in years—or their lives.
And Republicans will have to do this knowing that they will be responsible for five million people being denied health insurance because red states refused to expand Medicaid. Because if anecdotes about some of the 27,000 being denied coverage who are expected to die for a lack of insurance start to get some attention, there goes that plan.
Which leads us to what people will end up remembering about 2013…
History will not forget that the president’s website did not work for a while. But it will also recall that this Congress was the least effective in recorded history.
It will remember that Republicans shut down the government and held the economy hostage for for 16 days, shattering consumer confidence just as a real recovery seemed to be forming, because the Tea Party wanted “something” — which they didn’t get.
It may remember that the leaders of the Republican Party in both the House and Senate publicly declared war on the far right of their party as they faced insurgencies that made governance impossible and a half-dozen primary challenges of incumbents that could easily cost their party the Senate, for a third time.
It should remember that even though Republicans were forced to go along with letting some tax breaks on the richest end, they protected billions in tax breaks as they kept the sequester’s automatic cuts in place, gutting medical research, child care, public housing and food assistance for the poor, and cutting off more than a million unemployed Americans at a time when it was completely unprecedented to do so.
If Republicans fail to act on immigration reform, history will definitely recall that the only immigration legislation that passed the Republican House this year would deport millions of law-abiding undocumented workers who were brought here as children. Instead of embracing the efforts of Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) — who risked his career to help forge reforms that would dramatically slash the deficit and expand the economy — they turned the senator against himself and celebrated the policies of a congressman who is obsessed with the size of undocumented immigrants’ calves (yes, legs… not livestock).
And if Obamacare continues to be successful in controlling our health care costs—thus minimizing our long-term debt problems—as it saves lives and expands coverage, history will note the GOP’s only contribution to the effort was obsessive sabotage and a plot that denied millions of the nation’s poorest but hardest-working people health insurance and drove up the price of insurance in those states.
But at least Republicans can celebrate approval ratings, right? The president’s numbers are at a low for his presidency.
Or perhaps, history will note that the GOP started the year with approval numbers that were about as bad as the president’s are now. And they only got worse.