Presidential scholars have a term to describe the typical experience of a chief executive who wins re-election to the White House. It’s called the “second-term curse.” There’s evidence for it. Midway through their second terms, George W. Bush suffered Hurricane Katrina and the Iraqi quagmire, Bill Clinton was impeached, Ronald Reagan was staggered by the Iran-contra scandal, and Richard Nixon was run out of town.
At the risk of jinxing our current president with one year left to go, he appears to have broken the curse.
In 2013, the president’s year began with the repeal of the Bush-era tax cuts for the top earners, creating a tax code the New York Times called the “most progressive since 1979.” Later that year, he stared down the Republicans’ attempt to defund Obamacare via government shutdown, permanently weakening his opponents’ bargaining leverage.
Fast-forward to this month: Obama used that leverage to secure a budget deal that includes permanent extensions of lower-income tax credits from the 2009 stimulus, support for Obamacare insurance plans, long-term tax incentives for renewable energy and funding to carry out the recent international climate agreement. Not only has the Republican Congress effectively relented on the climate deal, it previously admitted defeat on Obama’s other major foreign policy achievement: the Iran nuclear deal.
Even the president’s second-term bully pulpit showed some punch. Since he called for a higher minimum wage in his 2013 State of the Union address, 17 states have followed suit.
What did Obama do right that escaped past second-termers?