Did you feel a certain kind of way when President Obama walked down the aisle in the House of Representatives chamber to give his 8th and final State of the Union address?
It made me think about his journey over the last seven years.
I remembered his first one vividly where he pledged to end the Iraq war, declared he’d reform healthcare, promised to tackle tax inequality and expand education.
“None of this will come without cost. Or will it be easy. But this is America, we don’t do what’s easy. We do what’s necessary to move this country forward.”
And two nights ago, a little bit more subdued, absolutely more comfortable and confident, Mr. Obama promised to keep up the fight in his waning days in office.
“I will keep pushing for progress on the work that I believe still needs to be done. Fixing a broken immigration system, protecting our kids from gun violence, equal pay for equal work, paid leave, raising the minimum wage. All these things, all these things still matter to hard working families. They’re still the right thing to do, and I won’t let us until they get done.”
He is a lame duck president, and he knows it.
So, the question is, how much can he, a lame duck president, really get accomplished in his final days?
Let’s look back at history as our guide.
George Washington served two terms and retired.
He had a pretty impressive finish as president.
His farewell address is one of the most celebrated speeches in history.
In his last year he focused on strengthening education and didn’t get caught up in foreign alliances.
He stayed focused.
In more recent history, Ronald Reagan, had a rocky start with gas lines and Iran-Contra.
But he turned it around by his final year with a flourishing economy and an end to the Cold War leading to the downfall of communism.
But guess who had one of the best final-year presidencies?
Bill Clinton, who even moved past the rumblings of an impeachment and an infamous sex scandal.
At the end of his term Clinton focused on America’s economic growth which resulted in the biggest budget surplus and biggest debt reduction in history.
His predecessor George W. Bush, despite inheriting a robust economy from Clinton, left the Oval office with a deficit, high unemployment, unfinished, costly wars and extremely low approval ratings.
So what’s the takeaway for President Obama? – Stay focused.
The economy is sound.
Unemployment is at an historic low.
But having faced, arguably, more opposition from congress than any modern day president, President Obama’s last year may be defined by how successful he is at going around congress.
It could largely be defined by what his opponents criticize him for – his new found freedom of executive action to do whatever he wants.