Life After the Election
Take away all the political spin, and the truth is that Barack Obama won a second tour of duty with a respectable margin - but nothing that could be mistaken for a sweeping mandate from the people.
He can dance all he wants to, but the truth is that his support is nowhere near as enthused as it was four years ago, nowhere near as starry-eyed and convinced that change is in the air.
It is a wearier bunch that elected Obama this time, still hopeful but more than a little scarred. I can't count the number of people here I've heard say they voted for the man, not because of great expectations this time, but only because they felt he was the safer choice from two questionable choices.
Around the world, the election was greeted with what seems mostly to be ambivalence. Russia's Prime Minister wrote that Omama is "a predictable" partner for them. Britain's Prime Minister said, "Look forward to continuing to work together." Israel's leader ordered his staff to make no comment. A leader in Iran said the outcome makes no difference and said the people of that country will never forget the "crimes" Obama has imposed on them. A Cuban newspaper headline: "The worst one did not win." All in all, not exactly a warm hug.
No matter how happy a face you put on it, it cannot be a comfortable feeling for a sitting president to lose the popular vote in 22 states - including two that voted for him four years ago. To have been beaten in a debate, to have his wife pulling higher confidence numbers than he does, and to have been forced to call in the charm-master Clinton to salvage his convention and overshadow his own oratory must be a lesson in humility.
Spinless, Obama pulled out a rather narrow victory in the popular vote against an opponent who has never held a federal-level position of responsibility. And I dare say, far from the best, brightest and steadiest Republican that could have been pushed out there.
One can only wonder what might have happened if the GOP had managed to field Chris Christie, Marco Rubio, Jeb Bush, Mitch Daniels, John Thune or another of their younger rising stars. Or if Ron Paul had managed to build a viable third-party option.
Political movers and shakers should be digesting an election in which neither candidate really satisifed a public finally on the verge of being fed up over the inability of the parties to achieve much of anything other than attacks on each other. Future candidates will need more than was offered on this campaign trail.
What lost it for Romney? Who knows - a bit of a perceived shortage of personality, getting caught in a few mistruths in campaign attack ads, a Bain record of disregard for working people, or abandoning sensible immigration policy that even George W. Bush had supported?
Too little time in swing states, a feeling that he is privileged and out of touch with the middle class, some unexpected baggage in the form of his VP running mate, or a shortcoming of concrete plans for achieving his goals, perhaps. Or maybe the inherent advantage that Obama had as an incumbent made enough difference - the old "it's better to be hit by the train you see coming than the one you don't know about" philosophy. We will probably never know.
For whatever reason, Obama tracked well with women, while Romney scored well with men. And I can only assume that a lot of Hispanics voted for Obama for delivering at least a part of the Dream Act promise.
Obama may be the winner, but he doesn't necessarily look like it. The office tends to age one quickly.
Obama no longer has the "bounce" of four years ago, that streetwise, smooth glide. You see the brilliant smile less often. He's perhaps grayed a little faster than most in the past few years. He seems happy to have won, though I'm not so sure why.
If Congress slapped down every Obama initiative in his first term, and the Tea Party beleaguered him at every turn, what kind of cooperation does he have to look forward to now that he will be a lame duck? On the other hand, Obama is now relieved of the burden of having to run for office - he is more free to speak and act without concern for political consequences.
Take away the spin and the blame and the numbers clearly explain why Obama the incumbent was vulnerable this election cycle:
In the 46 months that Obama has been president, the unemployment rate has been over 8 percent for 43 of them, way more months than in the previous 60 years from Truman through the second Bush. Median income for the for middle class families has dropped by an average of $5,000 since 2000, and their net worth dropped a staggering 40 percent in just three years from 2007-2010.
It's not been an easy four years, for the country or its president. Obama desperately wanted another term to try to see his ideals through - no president ousted after one term gets much of a legacy as a great American leader.
It was interesting, in the last moments of the campaign, to see Obama cry. I can't imagine tears from the uber-confident, sophisticated, slick Obama of 2008.
Only he knows what those few tears on his left cheek meant - relief, exhaustion, awe or gratitude...
Somehow, it makes him seem a little more human, and that isn't a bad thing. It will take some blood, sweat and tears to right the economic ship and keep us from being dragged into more vaguely-defined conflicts in the middle east before his time is done.
If there was a moment that should give us hope, it might have come in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy. When Obama and Christie, one of his greatest threats and critics, embraced and walked arm in arm to see some of the shoreline damage in Christie's New Jersey. Both showed what they are made of in this response to emergency, and in that one moment, they showed that it is still possible, when we absolutely have to, for a Democrat and a Republican to put all of their differences aside and do what is best for America.
And that is a beginning.