Today, he is in the most powerful position in the world. Yet he has spent a year struggling -- and failing -- to enact far-reaching makeovers of the American economy. So now, even in the Oval Office, there are signs that the old dissatisfaction is creeping back in.
At a Jan. 17 Martin Luther King Jr. Day event at Washington's Vermont Avenue Baptist Church, Obama brought up the fact that many people see him as almost preternaturally calm. "I have a confession to make," Obama said. "There are times I'm not so calm ... when progress seems too slow ... when it feels like all these efforts are for naught, and change is so painfully slow in coming, and I have to confront my own doubts."
Obama said it to be inspirational, but the fact is, in the past, that's when he looked for a new job.
A few days later, ABC's Diane Sawyer asked whether Obama would sometimes "sit and confront your own doubts."
"Yes," the president said.
"Ever in the middle of all that's coming did you think maybe one term is enough?" Sawyer asked.
Obama answered haltingly. "You know, I -- I would say that when I -- the one thing I'm clear about is that I'd rather be a really good one-term president than a mediocre two-term president."
Many observers have remarked that, even when dealing with the most momentous issues facing the country, Obama has seemed oddly removed from the hands-on work of making policy. Maybe they're noticing the same thing Harry Reid did.
The president's dissatisfaction is shining through; perhaps he's not really cut out for -- or up to -- the job.
In the State of the Union address, Obama declared, "I don't quit." And of course, there's no danger he would just up and quit the presidency. But throughout his life, his reaction to frustration has been to look for a bigger job. What does he do now?