Pundits and commentators agreed that Barack Obama, in his second term in office, was a lame duck, a tarnished president who would spend the rest of his time in office in trivial pursuits.
Until last week.
Last week was a triumph for the much-maligned president. It began modestly enough when Congress passed a trade bill, requested by Mr. Obama, that would empower him and his trade negotiators to cut deals with 11 countries in the so-called Pacific Rim, including Japan, always reluctant to open its markets to foreign goods. But what happened next was anything but modest. On Thursday, the normally conservative Supreme Court ruled, 6 to 3, in support of the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare, a dirty word to millions of grumpy Republicans, and then ruled, 5 to 4, on Friday to legalize same-sex marriages everywhere in the United States.
When he first ran for office, Mr. Obama supported the idea that marriage was strictly between a man and a woman. Most Americans, polls demonstrated, felt the same way. But then he and the rest of the country began a rapidly moving shift. The latest polls show that 60 per cent of Americans now support same-sex marriages and among young people the figure is 80 per cent.
Justice Anthony Kennedy, writing the majority opinion, concluded by saying that same-sex couples "should not be condemned to live in loneliness, excluded from one of civilization's oldest institutions. They ask for equal treatment in the eyes of the law. The Constitution grants them that right." Powerful words, momentous words. words that one day will be carved into granite. Mr. Obama called the decision "a victory for America," and in no time at all the White House was illuminated in the colors of the rainbow.
Then, right after celebrating the same-sex decision, he and his wife and one or two staffers boarded a helicopter for the short hop to Andrews Air Force, where they would board Air Force One for the flight to Charleston, S.C. There, he was scheduled to give the eulogy for the Rev. Clementa C. Pinckney, one of nine African-Americans killed by a young white racist while attending a Bible class in the basement of their church.
"I may sing," he told his wife and friends.
Mr. Obama appeared at the podium, with six or seven church elders, in brilliant blue robes lined up behind him and with 5,000 parishioners and supporters filling the College of Charleston hall. Suddenly, well into his eulogy, he fell silent, for 13 seconds, and anyone watching on TV could see the elders looked a little puzzled. But then, in what the Washington Post called "a rich baritone," he began singing.
"Amazing grace," he sang slowly, "how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me" and soon the elders and everyone in the auditorium were on their feet joining him in joyful singing of this glorious 200-year-old gospel. "Once I was lost, but now am found. Was blind but now I see."
I have watched and written about presidents for years, but I have never seen anything like Mr. Obama's eulogy in Charleston, S.C. It was, I thought, wonderful.
And, like that wretch in the song, President Obama, who not so long ago appeared lost, seems now to have found himself. Once, he might have been blind, but now he sees.
James M. Perry, a prominent veteran political reporter, contributes regular observations to post-gazette.com. Mr. Perry was the chief political correspondent of The Wall Street Journal until his retirement. Prior to that, he covered national politics for the Dow Jones weekly, The National Observer.