And so the once-dreamlike story entered its nightmare phase. In the beginning, nothing could go wrong for Barack Obama. Now, it seems nothing can go right.
The man who promised to transform our politics has turned out to be an ordinary player, at times as divisive and partisan as any common ward-heeler. In his latest book, The Washington Post's Bob Woodward revealed that Obama had so little contact with Republicans that when they seized the House, he had no phone number for John Boehner, the GOP leader.
Obama has turned out to be ordinary in another sense as well. As The New York Times recently reported, he has a habit of telling people he's a better political director than his political director and harbors an inflated opinion of his powers in other areas. But look at the political landscape.
Republicans are solidly united, while many of Obama's supporters are divided or dispirited. If Obama is so clever, how did this happen?
Organized labor, a core Democratic constituency, is wary at best — thanks to Obama's decision to favor greens over unions and block the Keystone pipeline. Nor were unions pleased by the Democrats' decision to meet in North Carolina, a right-to-work state.
The United Mine Workers, angered by Environmental Protection Agency decisions, has even withheld its endorsement.
In 2008, unions poured $400 million into Obama's effort. This year, the only question is how much that number will drop.
Turnout among young voters, not to mention Hispanics and African-Americans, won't come close to the tidal-wave proportions of 2008. Gallup reports that the share of young people who will definitely vote has dropped to 58 percent from 78 percent four years ago.
Then there's the unending economic frailty.
Last week, we learned that U.S. manufacturing had abruptly dropped to 2009 levels. Construction spending posted its biggest drop in a year. The World Economic Forum said America's competitiveness rating, best in the world only four years ago, had fallen to seventh place. One reason: The U.S. government "spends its resources relatively wastefully."
Friday's unemployment report was another downer. The jobless rate dropped to 8.1 percent, but only because more workers had given up looking for employment. Last month, only 96,000 new jobs were added to payrolls. Worse, jobs numbers for the preceding two months were revised downward. The economy remains in a deep rut, and it seems to be getting deeper.
All of this is reflected in recent polls. Nearly two-thirds of the voters believe the country is on the wrong track. In a Pulse Opinion Research poll conducted for The Hill, 54 percent said Obama doesn't deserve re-election.
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Even Obama's generally favorable media treatment has acquired a harder edge. First came The Times story mentioned above, but The Washington Post, The Huffington Post, The Wall Street Journal and Politico also greeted the Democrats in Charlotte with critical stories about the president. Politico summarized them in a roundup headlined, "Media: Obama is egotistical, selfish, dull."
Romney still hasn't made the sale, but the electorate is increasingly open to the idea. Next month's debates could decide the race.
E. Thomas McClanahan is a member of the Kansas City Star editorial board. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.