You don’t have to like everything President Obama did in his first term – or anything he did, actually – to acknowledge he did a lot. He signed the largest stimulus bill in American history and the Affordable Care Act; ordered the killing of Osama bin Laden and ended George W. Bush’s disastrous war in Iraq, just to name a few accomplishments.
But he’s never had a month like this last one. In January alone, over the final three weeks of his first term, the president faced down three of the most toxic forces in American politics — call them the three Ns: the National Rifle Association, Norquist (as in Grover) and the neocons – and won crucial battles, if not the war.
On Jan. 2 he signed a deal that raised top tax rates on the wealthiest Americans, winning the first GOP votes for a tax hike since 1990, despite their solemn vow otherwise to Norquist. On Jan. 7, he appointed former Sen. Chuck Hagel his Secretary of Defense despite once-fatal charges that he’s anti-Israel — or worse, anti-Semitic — from neocon bullies. On Jan. 16, he rallied the nation behind a gun control agenda and issued 23 “executive actions” that shouldn’t be controversial but are, thanks to the way the NRA has controlled gun politics in the last 20 years.
And after flatly refusing to negotiate over a debt-ceiling deal again, on Friday he won a big battle with House GOP dead-enders. The overmatched Republican leadership announced it would back lifting the ceiling for three months, and if they cave this time it’s hard to see them mounting a challenge in April.
A president who began his first term trying tirelessly to compromise with people who despise him completed it by finally standing up to them. It no doubt helped that in November he became the first president since Dwight Eisenhower to win 51 percent of the vote twice. Just in January, Obama faced down menacing political forces other presidents have ducked or placated. As he takes the oath of office a second time (well, the fourth time, technically) on the nation’s official holiday honoring Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., it’s hard not to be optimistic. If Obama keeps up his January pace, his second term will make even more history than his first.