If Obama is doing so great, why does it feel like Democrats are staring into the abyss? If the congressional elections were held today, the results would not be pretty for the party in power. “In a democracy, what matters is how the people respond to what you’ve done, it’s not the legislative body count,” says William Galston, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution. “If the administration has a good story to tell, it hasn’t told that story very well.”

Obama sold his candidacy against all odds to a skeptical political establishment, but he’s not nearly as good when it comes to selling his presidency. The CQ survey should help counter the myth that he hasn’t done anything, but checking with sources on Capitol Hill, the impulse is to downplay a statistical finding that doesn’t measure the magnitude of the legislative wins. One source cites what he calls “the 40-year rule.” If people aren’t talking about it in 40 years, it’s not a significant legislative achievement. Johnson passed voting-rights legislation in the spring of 1965 and Medicare in the summer, his first year after winning the presidency in his own right. Johnson had the lamplight of President Kennedy’s martyrdom guiding him, and he had 67 Democrats in the Senate, although some were conservative Southern Democrats committed to obstructing civil rights.

People may not be talking about Obama’s stimulus package in 2050, but fair-minded historians looking back will give him credit for pulling the economy back from the brink, and the $787 billion stimulus bill that he passed during his first hundred days with almost no Republican support was critical to the rescue effort.