Barack Obama: The New Comeback Kid
January 10, 2011, 2:00am

By Bill Press
Tribune Media Services

It didn’t take long.

Six weeks ago, after Democrats took what President Obama called a real “shellacking” in the midterm elections, pundits fell all over themselves writing Obama’s political obituary. Whether liberal or conservative, they all agreed on one thing: He’s dead. He’s toast. His presidency is over. The only thing the professional chattering class disagreed on was whether Obama would face a primary challenge from a liberal Democrat in 2012 — and who his Republican challenger (and successor in the White House) might be.

It didn’t take long. Today, the same gang is hailing Obama as the biggest comeback kid since Bill Clinton. Because, in the words of Democratic strategist Bob Shrum, Obama took a “lame-duck” session of Congress and turned it into a “soaring eagle.” And he did. Just look at the record of the last two weeks.

Taxes. Obama invited newly empowered congressional Republicans to a White House meeting, after which he hammered out a compromise on tax cuts — which he signed into law on December 17. Many liberal Democrats, including this one, didn’t like it. But Obama’s deal means, thanks to him, every American taxpayer gets a continued tax break and a bigger paycheck on January 1.

Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. He promised to end it before the end of his first term, and he did. Maybe he could have done it sooner, but on December 22 President Obama still made history by ending the Pentagon’s official policy of discrimination against gays and lesbians in the military: the greatest expansion of personal freedom since the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Children’s Nutrition. A pet project of first lady Michelle Obama’s, which seeks to provide healthier lunches and dinners to America’s schoolchildren, as part of her campaign against childhood obesity. She was there when her husband signed the bill into law on December 13. He added a food safety bill on December 22.

Judges. Senate Republicans have blocked dozens of Obama’s judicial nominees, some of them since January 2010. By agreeing to hold back on four of his more controversial nominees, Obama persuaded Senate Republicans to confirm 19 new federal judges.

New START Treaty. Recalcitrant Republicans tried every possible lame excuse on this one. They blamed Obama for caving in to Russia, even though this was just the latest step in a series of U.S./Russian nuclear arms treaties begun by Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan. They complained about not having enough time to study provisions of the treaty, even though for eight months the treaty had been posted on the Internet and been subject to 18 full hearings by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. They pretended to be concerned about national security, even though the chairman of the Joint Chiefs and the secretary of defense pleaded with Congress to ratify. They blamed Democrats for waiting until the lame-duck session to act, even though they themselves had pleaded with Democrats not to schedule a vote on New START until after the midterm elections.

Despite the strenuous efforts by Republican leaders Mitch McConnell and Jon Kyl to kill the treaty, President Obama won ratification of New START and a significant reduction of nuclear warheads by both Russia and the United States.

To those known successes may well be added (still uncertain at time of posting this column) enactment of legislation to provide health care for our brave 9/11 responders. White House aides could be forgiven if caught gloating over the holidays. It adds up to a significant record of accomplishment by any president, especially one who was buried like Lazarus in his grave, just a little more than a month ago.

And, of course, those 11th-hour successes are piled on top of what Obama had already accomplished earlier in his first two years: a $787 billion economic recovery program, already credited with saving or creating more than 2.5 million jobs; the successful bailout of America’s auto industry and Wall Street financial firms, for which taxpayers have already been paid back; saving America from the brink of economic collapse; turning the corner from monthly job losses to monthly job gains; legislation granting equal pay to women for the same jobs performed by men; the greatest expansion of health care since Medicare; the removal of all combat troops from Iraq; and a new mission and new endgame for American forces in Afghanistan.

You may not agree with all of it, but you can’t deny: It’s the most significant record of legislative achievement by any president since Franklin D. Roosevelt.