Partisan gridlock and tragedy at Sandy Hook cast a pall on an array of diffuse victories, underscoring Obama’s calm under pressure – and his humanity
Dan Roberts: The Guardian
Barack Obama’s second term began in earnest not with his re-election, nor subsequent inauguration, but on a dark December day exactly halfway between the two.
The massacre of 20 children at Sandy Hook elementary school in late 2012 was – according to one aide with him in the Oval Office when Obama was told – to prove the worst moment of either term. “You think this job is so powerful, but it’s not,” a stunned president is said to have observed as he received news of the shooting in Newtown, Connecticut.
Not even revulsion on this scale could provide enough political capital to prevent mass shootings from punctuating Obama’s presidency. Failure to push gun control legislation through the Senate in those first weeks after re-election was to prove a foretaste of many such frustrations over the following four years.
Some wounds were self-inflicted. Administration loyalists concede the most difficult period of the presidency was the bungled rollout in October 2013 of online healthcare exchanges promised under the Affordable Care Act (ACA). The fact it was nicknamed Obamacare by everyone only heightened the embarrassment.
Even the widely celebrated achievements of the second term were more diffuse and distant than before. Where the first four years involved a domestic economy rescued from the depths of recession and Congress tamed amid passage of the ACA, the successes that followed were often overseas and incomplete: diplomatic rapprochement with Cuba, a climate change agreement in Paris and a deal to contain Iran’s nuclear potential.
Reporting for the Guardian on this difficult second act was complicated by our own walk-on part in the drama. A conference call in June 2013 with White House national security staff about the bulk collection of mobile phone records was the first of several awkward conversations involving a young whistleblower called Edward Snowden.
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“I’m not sure being handed a bunch of classified documents qualifies as ‘breaking’ a story, but I certainly acknowledge that Snowden has used the Guardian as his principal outlet,” wrote press secretary Jay Carney in December 2013 when we asked to pose questions more publicly at a year-end press conference dominated by the affair.
Despite the frosty reception, the Guardian secured its first permanent seat in the press room in the second term, and a spot on the