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A Golden Age in the Obama White House come to an end?

Mark Mardell | 23:15 UK time, Wednesday, 22 December 2010

There was a wide smile on President Barack Obama's face as he signed the law allowing gay people to serve openly in the military. In the November election, he was often heckled by disappointed liberals for not getting it through. On Wednesday they chanted "yes, we can" and he replied "yes, we did".

Remember, this issue has been a central battle in the culture wars for a generation. Mr Obama was the general who won it.

Getting the New Start treaty through was a different kind of victory. Backed by the foreign policy establishment, including all living Republican former secretaries of state from Henry Kissinger to Condi Rice, the naysayers looked increasingly vindictive and willing to put the interests of party before nation. Enough came over to hand the president another win.

The third victory was of still another stripe.

At a news conference after the votes, Mr Obama looked a changed man. Maybe it was the thought of his upcoming Hawaii holiday. I know that would perk me up no end. But commentators from both sides of the divide have made an instant judgement. This was the Obama of old, of the campaign, talking about the wishes of the people. About hope for a better future. A hope that he can work with Republicans in the next Congress, next year.

It is a vain hope, of course. He has little to offer them. The tax deal really was a result of horse trading with Republicans. Wednesday's victory was just a case of bringing a few moderates on board. But if he can keep it up, keep up the optimism and the open offer, he can pose as the reasonable one. This is also what Wednesday was about.

Will you remember the 111th Congress as a Golden Age? I suspect Mr Obama wants the American people to learn to feel nostalgia for the past two years. Of course, Republicans regard it as a period of unmitigated disaster. Many Americans will regard it as a period of much muddle and unnecessary politicking. Even die-hard Democrats don't feel a huge amount of pride in its achievements.

Yet Mr Obama said that it was "the most productive two years that we've had in generations". He wants the day to be remembered as a time when things got done, when people could agree, when progress could be made. It is going to be an interesting new year.

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