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opinion

Such is the bollocking of President Barack Obama as the U.S. midterm elections take place Tuesday that you'd think he was the second coming of George W. Bush or Herbert Hoover.

He's being called the bystander-in-chief. How he lost America is a prevailing theme of the yelpers. His foreign policy is written off as nugatory. They accuse him of chasing golf balls instead of Islamic State decapitators.

The drubbing is lacking in perspective, driven largely by the country's polarizing right-wing noise machine. While Mr. Obama has certainly had a befuddlingly feckless year, it will likely count little in the long-run view of his presidency. His legacy, much of it already written, will likely be that of a successful president, a rationalist who stabilized the country in times of tumult.

The elections? As polls make clear, Mr. Obama's Democrats will suffer losses in both the House of Representatives and the Senate. But for a president to lose the midterms, especially in his second mandate, is so predictable it's hardly even news any more.

Going back to 1822, every second-term president but one has lost the midterms. That includes Ronald Reagan, Dwight Eisenhower and Franklin Roosevelt. Mr. Obama will do better than they fared in this test. The one exception was Bill Clinton, who, despite l'affaire Lewinsky, picked up five seats in the House while losing none in the Senate in 1998.

Those knocking Mr. Obama are forgetful folks. The economy, which was in its worst crisis in seven decades when Mr. Obama took power, continues to come around. The growth rate was 3.5 per cent in the third quarter of 2014 and employment has returned to customary levels.

Mr. Obama inherited two wars. He ended both and is unlikely to go much beyond air combat in the fight to contain the Islamic State. Such an approach is an outrage for the likes of John McCain, who want the United States to play world policeman forever. The critics bray at Mr. Obama's military spending cuts with cries of unilateral disarmament and the like. To get an idea how wacky that is, consider this: Even with these cuts, total U.S. defence spending isn't far short of what the rest of the world spends combined.

At home, Mr. Obama is still pilloried for his health-care overhaul, a reform many of his predecessors tried in some form to implement but failed. The program's botched rollout warranted derision, but it's on its feet now. While hamstrung by Congress, Mr. Obama has had it right on important issues such as climate change, gun control and economic stimulus.

No doubt, he has been a big disappointment in some areas. Critics are correct in citing his missing passion, his aura of detachment. He was such a rousing and articulate orator that we expected him to provide the inspiration and idealism of a Kennedy. He hasn't. Abroad, like at home, he is lacking in gravitas. He fails to project the power a U.S. president must.

Mr. Obama is a more cerebral type than a hardwired political man. He is always looking for balance, compromise, the middle way.

But given the cleavages, the corrosive extremes to which the United States has been polarized by Fox News commentators, Tea Party fundamentalists and billionaire political ad buyers, the middle way has had much to commend it.

This is not the America of former Washington Post editor Ben Bradlee, who just passed away, or John F. Kennedy, when progressive media voices held sway. (Ottawa journalist Andrew Cohen has just written a stellar book on the Kennedy presidency, Two Days in June, which illustrates how different those times were.)

Mr. Obama's approval ratings are in the low 40s, bad but hardly ruinous. At this stage of incumbency, most presidents are in down cycles. For most, as we'll find with Mr. Obama, it was hardly the lasting image.