Even with no real scandal and only one demonstrable policy blunder, the health care rollout, President Obama had a miserable 2013 as his public standing plummeted. History suggests it is tough for a second-term president to rebound. Here are five ways Obama could defy those odds.
Will the president listen to them in the crunch? It will be instructive to see whether Podesta will be limited to energy and environmental matters, as the White House initially suggested, or has a wide-ranging portfolio. One encouraging sign, some Democrats say, is that White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough realizes the value of broadening the inner circle.
Obama had to enlist an expert to fix the website. The critical question in 2014 will be whether a chief executive is tapped to run the entire program. If White House resistance persists, look for more problems and controversies that will make the website screw-ups seem tame.
The improving economy affords the president an opportunity to challenge Republicans on income inequality. Critics will yell about class warfare. Yet the incongruity of the recovery – good for the well-to-do, not so good for the working class – is beyond dispute, as was well-documented recently by Steven Rattner, a former Wall Street executive and Obama’s automobile industry rescue czar.
A nuclear deal with the Iranians would be one such success; less likely, though conceivable, is genuine progress on the Israeli-Palestinian front. Foreign policy achievements, however, rarely elevate a second-term president’s popularity. Failure with Iran or a conflict in the South China Sea could undermine him further.
The economy, as always, will be critical. With the Republican-controlled House, the president is devoid of realistic policy options to accelerate growth. But the psychology and perceptions may matter a lot.
The odds remain against a real recovery for the president. If most of the boxes above are checked off, or if the not-so-loyal Republican opposition reverts to self-destruction, Obama’s good fortune may continue.