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