Obama’s Last Year Wasn’t as Bad as They Say

His 2013 was lackluster—no doubt—but Obama made some good moves last year, too.

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President Barack Obama greets well-wishers outside at Kailua Beach Center on Dec. 31, 2013, in Honolulu.

Kent Nishimura-Pool/Getty Images

Unless you opted for your own news blackout during the holiday season, by now you’ve probably read one of the many year-end recaps that described 2013 as President Barack Obama’s worst year. If not, just read here, here, here, here and here.

Reviews were bad, with even Chris Matthews—of “thrill going up my leg when Obama speaks” fame—lamenting that last year “feels like the seventh or eighth year of a presidency,” not the fifth.

The overall gist, of course, is that between Edward Snowden’s National Security Agency leaks, the administration’s clumsy messaging on Syria, Congress’ inability to enact background-check legislation and the lousy rollout of Obamacare—including PolitiFact’s naming “If you like your health care plan, you can keep it” as its lie of the year—the president heads into 2014 digging himself out of a hole.

Indeed, the last 12 months were far from stellar.

The president and his key surrogates have failed to capitalize on an improving economic picture, with their seeming inability to proactively communicate to the American electorate where they’re trying to take it from day to day and year to year. And as my The Root colleague Keli Goff explains, he’s still battling persistently high unemployment, particularly among African Americans.

But the first year of his second term wasn’t quite as bad as everyone says. Background-check legislation didn’t happen, but that wasn’t on Obama’s agenda until the Sandy Hook massacre in Newtown, Conn. Immigration reform only got through the Senate, but it’s not completely dead in the House. His approval numbers took a hit, but in last week's Gallup poll, they made a modest five-point rebound.

He deserves criticism, sure, but also some credit. Here are five good moves he made last year:

Syria

It wasn’t pretty watching Obama send Secretary of State John Kerry out to make a full-throated case for military action in Syria, only to pull back days later and call for Congress to weigh in—we’re used to seeing commanders in chief go to war without reservation. But you could argue that one of the main reasons Obama was elected in the first place was that Americans wanted a president who was willing to pull back from the brink if that was what circumstances called for.

The Government Shutdown

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