By Oren Laurent
President, Banc De Binary
At his annual year-end press conference on Friday, US President Barack Obama was asked if 2013 had been the worst year of his presidency so far. Like a true politician, Obama flashed his famous smile and deflected criticism, “That's not how I think about it.”
Certainly, Obama knows that he has encountered several setbacks this year, and there is no denying that his popularity in the polls has decreased. However, has it really been so terrible? And more importantly, what does his current standing mean for the U.S. in his remaining three years in office?
When Obama delivered his state of the union address in February, having beaten Romney to win a second term, he displayed the confidence and shared a vision of change reminiscent of his 2008 ‘Yes we can!’ election campaign. He would introduce new gun control laws. He would implement a new health care plan. He would tackle the Iranian nuclear problem and renew talks on climate change.
Within weeks the National Rifle Association had mobilised its pro-firearms supporters on Capitol Hill and killed Obama’s gun control plans. Is this the President’s failure? It may have been embarrassing, yes, but the strength of Washington’s gun lobby is no secret and arguably Obama has set an honourable precedent in taking a stand on this issue. Months later when the healthcare.gov website launched in October, the news was dominated by problems on the site. Yet the negative public opinion will likely give way to more positive impressions once people benefit from the health cover and forget the initial setbacks. Obama’s talks with Iran are controversial and only time will tell if they are to be deemed a success or not. As for climate change talks, this will now form part of the President’s 2014 agenda.
Yet to only talk about the above is to miss the most crucial factor: the economy. The slow but steady improvement of the U.S. has not dominated as many media headlines and influenced short term public opinion as much as the healthcare debate, but in the long run, this is far more important. The strengthening of the economy in 2013 gives the biggest reason for optimism and will carry Obama forwards in his remaining three years in office and facilitate other policies.
Just hours before Obama’s press conference, the Commerce Department announced that the country’s gross domestic product grew at an annualised rate of 4.1% in the third quarter, its fastest pace in two years and higher than previously believed. The S&P 500 stock index has climbed over 27% already this year and looks set to enjoy its best annual performance since 1997. Plus, the jobless rate fell to its lowest in five years in November, to 7%. As a result, the Federal Reserve is tapering its bond buying and the International Monetary Fund is raising its outlook for the U.S. economy.
Obama asserted that “2014 can be a breakthrough year for America.” It can - if the economy continues on its uphill path and the public, benefiting from higher employment, business growth and trade, lend their support to further political reform. Yet Obama’s use of “can” rather than “will” serves as a reminder of the uncertainty that still surrounds current political and economic issues, a reminder that we should never take positive change for granted.
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