Barack Obama’s presidency has had no shortage of hard knocks. An obstinate and childish Congress, very public and embarrassing fumbles (especially of the foreign affairs variety), and a critical and unforgiving media have often left the president looking haggard, defeated and hopeless. His meteoric campaigns and explosive early speeches and presence seemed to fade under the strain of a difficult and depressing job. This week, for the first time in a long time, the old Obama was back. And he was back with a vengeance.
This past week was Obama’s best in Washington. What’s more, the ramifications of this week were massive enough to undoubtedly contribute to the formation and cementation of his legacy.
He kicked off his week of triumph by salvaging a seemingly doomed trade bill. After the Democrats delivered a mortifying blow by rejecting his trade package last Friday, Obama switched gears and did the unthinkable: he collaborated with congressional Republicans. Together, the unlikeliest of bedfellows (Obama, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Speaker John Boehner) manipulated various parts of the bill until Democrats were ultimately cowed into passing it. A bipartisan victory would be enough to make that week a standout, even on its own. But Obama’s success didn’t end there.
The Supreme Court then voted to uphold subsidies for low- and middle-income Americans as a provision of the Affordable Care Act. This vote marks the second time that the Supreme Court has stood behind the Act, perhaps marking the end of Republicans’ desperate attempts to discredit the law at the expense of ill and low-income Americans. As the Affordable Care Act will likely be remembered as one of the hallmarks of Obama’s presidency, this ruling lends Obama steadiness and legitimacy in the face of an ugly and grasping opposition.
Of course, this Supreme Court ruling lost the spotlight to another, even more spectacular one: the legalization of gay marriage in America. Ever since Obama came out in support of legalized gay marriage in May 2012, his position has seemed to be an increasingly popular (and, somewhat cynically, politically advantageous) one. As the vast majority of the public opinion has swelled into full-throated support of the measure, the president was able to assume the position of standard-bearer, again bringing Democrats to the side of progression and human rights while the Republicans quibbled about how to satisfy their stodgy base without publicly swimming against the tide. Friday was a win for Democrats, gays, Americans, humans and especially the White House.
Obama then capped off his week by turning a heartbreaking and resigned event into one that was unifying and tearjerkingly powerful. As the president led the congregation at South Carolina State Senator Clementa Pinckney’s funeral in an impromptu performance of “Amazing Grace,” the church swelled with unified voices, hope, and the promise of change — a tune that has been absent from the White House for far too long.
Kate Riga is a rising junior in the College. Panem et Circenses appears every other Saturday.