This is the guy I remember. Calm, not detached. Decisive, not timid. Smart, not brainy. Yes He Can.
So where's he been?
It is a fair criticism of his last two years that he seemed unable to confront a united opposition, even if he didn't waver in his stated positions. He did seem passive when others, mainly the Tea Party, defined him as a weak tyrant, an oxymoron not easy to concoct. So with elections behind him forever, bang, bang, bang. Immigration, global warming, Cuba, Keystone, with much more to come. For the Left, it comes as a kind of relief. For the Right, the gauntlet has been thrown down and the fight has begun.
The change in style is smart and will be effective, politically. Presidents are supposed to be decisive and benefit from the simple fact of having done some damn thing, even if the public isn't sold on the merits of what's been done. It is, after all, the Executive Branch.
The merits of his actions are, as always, hard to figure. Results matter, especially on the economy and the conditions of daily life. If wages and jobs continue to improve, he will leave the presidency with an unblemished record of economic growth. If Obamacare survives, there will be 15 million more people with health insurance and costs will be relatively under control. If the Iranian and Cuban negotiations advance, and the Russian economy finally constrains Putin, he will have a string of foreign policy successes, without war, that is also unparalleled. Not bad.
In political terms, his moves are precise and effective. Republicans are now backing torture, continuation of the Cuban embargo, and the deconstruction of health care for ten million people who gained health insurance under Obamacare.
All these realities bump into a visceral dislike and opposition to Obama which has spread from the hard Tea Party right to a significant number of Americans who are not birthers, social reactionaries or allies of the Koch brothers. Put aside the reasons, and calculate if anything can move the Obama needle back toward favorability. Maybe, certainly incrementally, and certainly based upon actual results. And if you're handicapping 2016, it all will help Hillary against Jeb/Rand/Scott/Marco/Mitt/Chris etc. They're going to be busy not offending their crazies.
It certainly has changed the dynamic and public debate. And it is a reminder of why he was such an extraordinary candidate in 2008. It will be difficult to redeem the promise, hope and ardor of those days. But the first steps have been taken. It won't be dull.