We are going to hear, over the next few months, that Barack Obama has staged a dramatic comeback. The story line began last week, with his string of bill signings, and will continue when the fourth-quarter economic numbers show an improved growth rate (maybe up to 3 percent) with expectations of more to come in the first quarter of next year. He has now established, whether honestly or not, that he can work with Republicans, etc. etc. It will be the mainstream media meme to end all mainstream media memes.
That’s fine, and good for him, but here’s the truth: We also judge presidents based on how they react in unexpected and unanticipated situations — when the oil well explodes in the waters off Louisiana, when the Republican is elected in Massachusetts to Ted Kennedy’s Senate seat, when somebody announces something about apartment construction in East Jerusalem, when hundreds of thousands of Iranians take to the streets. Nothing that’s happened since the election should give us any reason to believe that the gut-instinct way Obama reacts to difficulties, setbacks, or disappointments has changed. He seems split between remaining almost affectless (as in the month or so post-Deepwater) and overly angry (his post-election press conference, and the press conference after the tax-cut deal in which he called Republicans hostage takers and Democrats sanctimonious).
Sure, when he gets his way, he’s all smiles and bonhomie, but that’s not going to be the hand he’s dealt next year either domestically or in foreign affairs. He managed to pull off a few weeks of last-minute triumphs that have made him feel good and that do set him up far better than failure would have done. But he’s going to have to fight against his own nature to cope with the kinds of troubles that will be coming at him in the next year, and usually, troubles only deepen people’s core personalities, they don’t alter them.