As the surprisingly active lame duck session draws to a close and the president’s third year in office draws to a start, a handful of pundits are filling out their presidential report cards. Once again, the Beltway consensus seems to have turned, and the president has bounced up from the death bed in which we were told he had settled, ready to ride a second wind into his next semester.

This is the headline of the Los Angeles Times’s assessment, at least. In “Obama has strong first-half finish,” Tribune Washington bureau staffers Paul West, Christi Parsons, and Lisa Mascaro offer a mixed review of the president’s first two years—but one that suggests a recent “storm of activity of impressive, even historic, dimensions” will be looked back upon favorably. Especially in relation to what’s to come:

Obama has two years left to persuade Americans that his approach of compromise and consensus-building is assertive enough to revive the economy and the flagging fortunes of the Democrats.

Arrayed before him will soon be a far more conservative Congress and a continuing slow-motion economic recovery that will likely hang over his head for the next two years.

Mostly, the Times piece is about looking back and defining the president’s job and image to date—a Ghost of Christmas Past type deal—except unlike Scrooge’s night time visitors, the writers don’t go far beyond the past two to three weeks.

Still, the year-end victories have gone a long way toward reshaping the image of a president who seemed isolated and out of touch only a month ago after an enormous midterm election defeat.

Obama now looks like a dealmaker who can reach across party lines to get things done and, perhaps, make progress that Americans found lacking when they went to the polls.

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By working closely with Republican leaders over the last few weeks, Obama appears engaged and involved in a way he didn’t before. Along the way, he’s helped himself with portions of his base and given independent swing voters a reason to take a fresh look.

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Opinion surveys show that voters across the political spectrum give the tax deal high marks, which will let Obama do something else he was unable to do before: associate himself with a highly popular initiative.

Still, the Times writers offer a nuanced take on the president and the challenges to come for him. Though they only seem to have talked to those on the president’s team for direct reporting for the piece, and pulled quotes from the vice president’s Sunday Meet the Press visit, the reporters remind readers that current Obama resurgence narratives are complicated by the failure of Congress to pass the Dream Act, and, above all, the continuing limpness of the so-called recovery.

But if the tax deal succeeds in boosting the nation’s tepid economic growth rate next year, as some forecasters predict, the public’s pessimistic mood could brighten and lift Obama’s reelection prospects along with it, said veteran Democratic strategist Bill Carrick.

“That is the most important political dynamic going into 2012,” he said, “that people think the economy is turning around.”

Unsurprisingly, the economy makes less of an appearance in Politico’s big presidential midterm think piece, “President Obama 2.0: Becoming a ‘CEO’ of America.” Written by John F. Harris and James Hohmann, it’s a Christmas Future deal whose title tells you everything: light on substance, heavy on cute wording and quotes from Clinton-era folks—the CEO comment comes courtesy of former Clinton White House Chief of Staff John Podesta. It comes early in the piece:

“He needs to be CEO of America,” said former Clinton White House chief of staff John Podesta, an Obama sympathizer who ran his transition to power after the 2008 election and is now urging him to dramatically refashion his presidency.



The West Wing makeover, as Podesta and others see it, would involve Obama no longer “being Velcroed to the Hill” and giving more attention to powers of the presidency that don’t involve signing bills into law.

From there out, the writers speak to “numerous veterans of previous White Houses and other experts” about the “urgent need to reinvient his [Obama’s] presidency” by “discarding the Congress-focused strategy of the first two years and coming up with new and more creative ways to exercise power.” The five pithy bullet point headers the president can use to achieve such a 2.0 transformation are: “Grow the White House staff—by 2 million people,” a figure representing the number of folks who work for the executive branch; “Draw new lines—with new ideas”; “Co-opt the opposition”; “Be leader of the country—not just the government”; and, get your “Wheels up,” going overseas for photo ops where you look respected and revered. Or, more briefly: “Become Bill Clinton.”

Joel Meares is a former CJR assistant editor.