In 2008, as an economic crisis played into his hands, Obama ran against an uninspiring opponent in John McCain, campaigned on grandiose promises in lieu of a record, and cultivated and rode a mainstream media wave based on a myth of his messiahship. Yet he still only won with 53 percent of the vote.
Obama had painted a bleak picture of America, which didn't really have much to do with the immediate financial crisis we were then undergoing, though he milked that for all it was worth and incorporated it into his narrative while enjoying a complete pass for his role in creating it.
Obama described an America that had lost its way and exploited the naive idealism of youth voters, promising that he would usher in a new kind of politics and an era of "hope and change."
Obama not only got the youth vote out but also garnered an unprecedented share of it. Some 54.5 percent of Americans 18 to 29 voted in 2008, and they constituted the highest category of the electorate voting. (Seniors -- 65 or older -- constituted 16 percent.)
Young voters reportedly preferred Obama over McCain by 68 percent to 30 percent -- the highest margin in that demographic since exit polling began reporting voting results by age group in 1976. The youth vote is believed responsible for delivering the two swing states of Indiana and North Carolina to Obama.
Unfortunately for Obama, he has not been able to sustain the young voters' irrational exuberance. In the November 2010 midterm elections, just 20.4 percent of Americans younger than 30 voted, compared with 23.5 percent in the previous midterm in 2006. That's about a million fewer youth voters.
But how could it be otherwise? It's one thing to run on platitudes against a party on whose watch the economy lurched into crisis just in time for the election. It's another to run on a record that not only failed to fulfill any of its optimistic promises but also is horrific in actual terms by any objective measure.
Whereas Obama was once seen as far above the fray of petty partisan politics and unencumbered by the stale, corrupt traditions that hamstring Beltway politicians from delivering reform, he is now known to be as petty and hyper-partisan as the best of the party bosses of old.