Salena Zito

Just because you say something does not make it true, no matter how many times you say it or how many people repeat it.

Case in point: the mantra among Washington media circles that President Obama is the new “Comeback Kid.”

Perhaps if you live in Washington, you might believe it; the press is saying it, the administration is stealthily pushing it and, if you are to believe “the Googles,” there are 26 million-plus mentions of “Comeback” and “Obama” to back-up all the hyperbole.

Well, those endless year-end reports of Obama’s political recovery during Congress’ lame-duck session are greatly exaggerated.

Let’s begin with the extension of the Bush tax cuts that Obama railed against as a candidate and then, when he began explaining why he favored extending them, he railed against them again. Awkward.

This was followed by an equally awkward press conference featuring former President Bill Clinton, called to soothe the political left and to woo the press. Clinton basically dismissed Obama at his own podium, in his own house.

Then there was the omnibus spending bill laden with more than 6,000 earmarks. The president publicly backed the $1.1 trillion spending measure; luckily for him, the U.S. Senate failed to pass it – making it a failure both for the president and for Democrats.

And then there was the Dream Act: Failure.

The Senate’s ratification of the New START missile treaty with Russia was in place months ago, and everyone knew that “don’t ask, don’t tell” eventually would be repealed. So propping them up as two “stunning comeback” moments seems just a bit of a stretch.

Quite frankly, the only comeback that Main Street America still looks for from Obama is a bipartisan focus on jobs, the economy and putting the brakes on government and spending; the last thing that Main Street is thinking about is New START or “DADT.”

Of course, moderates and independents who lean GOP simply are not as mad at Obama as they were prior to November’s midterm election. They are happy that he compromised on tax cuts but they haven't really spent much time thinking about the spending or debt that these cuts will cost.

Progressive Democrats likely are not as enthusiastic about Obama as they were pre-tax-cut-compromise. Yet with DADT and START achieved, they are slightly more willing to forgive what they see as his fiscal capitulation.

That said, this "comeback" really is only about 3 points in most polls (from 44 to 47) and probably will be very temporary.

As soon as the next Congress starts to confront Obama over spending cuts, you'll likely see things slide back to where they were pre-tax cut: Liberals will stick with him so long as he stands strong or vetoes any GOP spending cuts; moderates and independents who lean GOP will get mad at him again for not compromising and for being too partisan.

In other words, the lame-duck session was hardly a comeback. It might more aptly be considered a holiday break, or the calm before the political storm, or a respite before the replay of confrontational politics.

Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton and Harry Truman really are the only presidents who took low approval ratings after their first midterms and turned them into wins by the time of their re-election campaigns.

Reagan's comeback often is attributed to the economy’s quick turn-around in 1983 and 1984. Clinton's typically is associated with his leadership following the Oklahoma City bombing in April 1995 and his willingness to play political chicken with House Speaker Newt Gingrich and the GOP Congress over the 1995 budget.

It’s hard to imagine Obama successfully replaying Clinton's strategy, largely because House GOP leader John Boehner is not Gingrich and today’s Republicans will be wiser than Gingrich about forcing spending cuts.

If Obama effectively makes an argument, as Clinton did, that he is “protecting” Americans and that Congress is trying to "blackmail” him, then it is possible that he might stage a comeback.

So far, he and his team have not demonstrated the prowess to pull off that one.


Salena Zito

Salena Zito is a political analyst, reporter and columnist.