By MICHAEL GOODWIN
Go figure. I’ll always be proud of my country, but Obama’s victory defies political logic and economic reality. It was a stunning personal triumph for a president who was ripe for a downfall.
Now comes the hard part. The presidency is a singular institution in our democracy, and Obama too often showed himself unable to bear its unique burdens in the last four years.
He set a partisan tone right out of the gate when, in a showdown over the stimulus, he rejected Republican ideas and declared, “I won.” It was a moment of chest-thumping bravado that helped poison the well.
His foreign policy is stuck between dithering and dishonesty, and, counter to his self-aggrandizing promises, the world doesn’t love us more because he is at the helm.
The facts of the state of our union, then, do not explain last night’s results. Nor is it sufficient or fair to say Mitt Romney lost an election he should have won.
Yes, Romney made mistakes, chiefly being too timid for too long. But he proved to be a perfectly fine candidate down the stretch, performed brilliantly in the first debate and surged into the lead in many national polls.
But he could never put together a clear path to 270 electoral votes, coming tantalizingly close but failing to make the final sale in too many swing states.
So give the devil his due. Obama wins a second term when gravity says he shouldn’t have. He campaigned from beginning to end with grit and more determination than message.
He and associated groups spent over $100 million in TV ads attacking Romney’s character and tenure at Bain Capital. But Obama did not win because he destroyed Romney or because a majority believes in his agenda. He won because enough voters still believe in him with a quasi religious fervor, making the actual content of many of his policies largely irrelevant to them.
Strangely transfixed by his remote and haughty aura, they believe that, even without a real coherent economic plan, life will somehow get better for them if only they follow him.
For others, his “likability” edge made up for Romney’s advantage on the all-important economic issues. Life’s not fair, and the idea that likability trumps competence, in the Oval Office no less, strikes me as absurd, yet there it is in 21st century America.
Of course, Obama did have a message for those who feel left out of the American dream. He told them they had been cheated, that the nation was rigged against them and that he would soak the rich and redistribute their wealth. The first term proved he meant it, with a surge in disability benefits, food stamps, bailouts and class warfare, so we’re likely to get more of the same.
It’s not a happy prospect or even a mandate, but we shall see if the president can work with the Republican House to change the nation’s course. He rarely did in the first term, and that is a luxury he no longer enjoys. He now must be president instead of just running for the office.
The challenges are numerous and urgent. Our nation is treading water, at home and abroad. Decline is not inevitable, but neither is it a given that we will get our mojo back.
Despite his many talents, Obama showed no talent for uniting and moving the country forward in his first term. He gets another chance and, frankly, I would be surprised if he does much better this time.
Happily surprised, absolutely, but still surprised.