Charles Dharapak, File, Associated Press
WASHINGTON — Barack Obama's terrible, horrible, no good, very bad year got off to a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad start.
There he was, on New Year's Day, on vacation with his family in Hawaii, stuck on a secure phone with counterterrorism officials, trying to figure out what screw-ups had allowed a would-be terrorist to board a Christmas Day flight with explosives in his underwear.
Things only got worse for Obama when he returned to Washington in between a pair of epic winter storms.
From the start, 2010 delivered a string of setbacks that built up to an electoral shellacking come November, to use the president's own word.
No matter that the recession was officially over. That sweeping health care changes at last had been enacted. That combat operations in Iraq ended. That General Motors was making money and hiring again. That banks paid back most of the billions they'd borrowed from the government. And that Obama worked out a December tax cut deal with Republicans and scored a surprising victory in persuading Congress to end the ban on gays serving openly in the armed forces.
"This is what change looks like," Obama said proudly, after the health care law passed.
But. The economic recovery was too slow. The oil gushed for too long. The health care law was too complicated. The unemployment rate too high. The political discourse too raw. The tea party too loud.
Americans were in a foul mood, and Democrats got the blame.
Unemployment rate: 9.7 percent. Presidential approval rating in Associated Press-GfK poll: 56 percent. Congressional approval: 42 percent.
The Jan. 19 election to fill the Senate seat vacated by the death of Obama's ally and friend, Ted Kennedy, delivered a jarring result. Republican Scott Brown's victory, in liberal Massachusetts no less, deprived Democrats of their 60th vote in the Senate, the number needed to overcome GOP delaying tactics on legislation.
The consequences rippled through everything, recasting the already bruising health care debate, dimming hopes for climate change legislation and exposing animosity from voters over joblessness, Wall Street bailouts, exploding federal budget deficits and the toxic ways of Washington.
Obama recognized what was obvious, yet remarkable for a man who just one year earlier had embodied the restless mood of voters who swept him into office. He was losing touch.
"Do they really get us and what we're going through?" Obama wondered aloud.
He meant that extraordinary circumstances had forced themselves on the presidency and the country. "I hated it, you hated it," he said of the bank bailouts, for example. "It was about as popular as a root canal."
His State of the Union speech was in part a soliloquy about the expectations he'd raised. "I campaigned on the promise of change — change we can believe in, the slogan went," he said. "And right now, I know there are many Americans who aren't sure if they still believe we can change. Or, at least, that I can deliver it."
Unemployment rate: 9.7 percent.
Bipartisanship came briefly into fashion, as lip service. Early in the month, Obama invited Republican leaders to the White House for the first time in two months, even as the capital was all but shut down by snow and ice. The meeting simply made clear Washington was polarized to the point of paralysis — in government as well as on the streets.
"Bipartisan cannot mean simply that Democrats give up everything that they believe in, find the handful of things that Republicans have been advocating for, and we do those things, and then we have bipartisanship," Obama sniped.
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