"So much of our steady, persistent work over the years is paying off for the American people in big, tangible ways," Obama said in his opening remarks. Toward the end of his hour-plus-long presser, Obama touted his "steady, persistent leadership on many initiatives I began when I first came into office." (You can watch the whole news conference at the bottom of this post.)
Obama's rhetoric reflected his view of 2015: This was the year -- in terms of accomplishments -- he had been waiting his entire presidency for. The Supreme Court knocked down the last major challenge to his health-care law, virtually ensuring that it will be the law of the land for many years to come. The economy, finally, began to show signs of sustained strength and growth. A fast-track trade deal was struck with a Republican-controlled Congress. Same-sex marriage was legalized nationwide by the high court. A major international climate accord was reached in Paris. Congress passed an omnibus spending bill that avoids the brinksmanship with the White House that had defined the past four years.
It was also a remarkable shift in the space of a single year. In his year-end news conference in 2014, Obama spent a significant amount of time insisting he was no lame duck -- and that he would continue to push hard to get his priorities accomplished despite the fact that his party had lost total control of Congress in the previous month's midterm elections.
As I wrote in awarding President Obama the Worst Year in Washington in 2014 (his second straight win):
Twelve months ago, we also awarded Obama the worst year in 2013, calling 2013 his "lost year" because he spent it salvaging old accomplishments rather than building his legacy. But even then, we saw a possible path back to relevance. Now, all that appears left for the Obama presidency is a narrowing of both vision and accomplishment.What tied together all of 2014's failures, stumbles and necessary evils was a growing sense among the public that Obama simply isn't up to the job to which he has been twice elected.
To be clear: Lots and lots of Republicans (and even plenty of independents) still feel that way about Obama. But, regardless of your politics, it's hard not to look at the last year and see a whole lot of checked boxes on Obama's long-term priority list. And the ability to check those boxes in the seventh year of his presidency proved, beyond any question, that Obama remained not only relevant but a force to be reckoned with, politically speaking.
For Obama then, the struggles of the two years following his 2012 reelection victory were justified by the events of 2015. Many in his party -- including those senators who are no longer senators or governors who are no longer governors -- might disagree, of course. But Obama left no question about how he feels about what he did in 2015 -- and how he plans to build on it in his final year in office. "Interesting stuff happens in the fourth quarter, and we are only halfway through," Obama promised. "In 2016, I'm going to leave it all out on the field."