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Pete Souza—The White House

The morning of Nov. 5, 2014, was undoubtedly the gloomiest of Barack Obama’s presidency. His party had just been clobbered in the congressional elections—and it was widely perceived as a personal repudiation. Democratic candidates had run away from the President and his policies. He was seen as toxic on the trail and a spent force in Washington. The term lame duck didn’t begin to cover it: he was an oil-slick duck, paralyzed and defeated by a complicated world and an unrelenting opposition.

Except he wasn’t. The raw facts of the matter said he wasn’t defeated. The economy was growing nicely; hundreds of thousands of jobs were being created each month. Obamacare was a success, despite the robotic Chicken Little predictions of his opponents. And he refused to act as if he had been defeated: he made some of the most serious history of his presidency, producing a framework for a nuclear nonproliferation deal with Iran and starting the path to normalizing relations with Cuba. A difficult world still loomed, and his presidency was far from perfect. But Barack Obama has proved that even after a lacerating defeat, the President of the United States is always, potentially, the most influential person in the world.

Klein is TIME’s political columnist

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