The man who promised to end the bitter divisions and small-mindedness of American politics, which he called a vindictive "blood sport," mounted a campaign of personal destruction of his own that ignored our troubling economic, social and civil decline.
The post-election result is a crippled presidency without a public mandate or mission to tackle the immense issues that threaten to plunge an ever-weakening economy into a deeper, long-lasting recession.
From the start, Obama's campaign has been all about class warfare, dividing the nation between low- to middle-class Americans on one side and upper-income Americans and the business class on the other.
It worked. Roughly half the nation bought into his Elmer Gantry demagoguery. The other half didn't. Obama carried 25 states, including the biggest electoral prizes (Florida is still in doubt), and Mitt Romney carried 24.
The president's campaign ads -- models of character assassination -- defined Romney as a ruthless corporate takeover thug who fired workers, sold off company assets and became rich in the process. He was a man who declared war on women, threw the elderly out in the snow, and favored the rich at the expense of the middle class.
The truth is that Romney founded a respected venture capital company that invested in start-up businesses and built them into some of the most successful enterprises in the nation, creating hundreds of thousands of jobs and careers in the process.
Some did not work out, but most did: Staples, Toys R Us, Domino's Pizza, Sports Authority, Burger King and many more. Romney was building businesses, jobs and incomes when Obama was a neighborhood organizer for the welfare state.
As the race heated up and the polls tightened, Obama's TV attack ads became more vicious and desperate. One of them ended with the racially suggestive tag line, "He's not one of us." Vice President Biden told a heavily black audience that Romney's policies will "put you in chains."
An early Obama ad that sought to raise questions about Romney's job-creating talents portrayed his four years as governor as a failure on job growth. In fact, he ended his governorship with Massachusetts' unemployment at a low 4.7 percent.
Obama's campaign was all about the art of the attack, not about what he would do for the country over the next four years to lift the economy out of what voters say feels like a recession, and put millions of unemployed Americans back to work.
He didn't talk about any of this because he had no plan to deal with the paramount issues of slow economic growth -- beyond more federal "stimulus" spending or raising taxes on upper-income Americans who run small businesses.
These are the same ideas that, in his first term, either failed to get America moving again or were rejected by Congress, even when the Democrats were in charge.
Instead, his campaign attacks played to the fears of the major constituencies he courted. Women: Romney would overturn Roe v. Wade and make abortions illegal. Seniors: He would "end Medicare as we know it," and Social Security checks would be his next target.
But Romney, except when asked in the party primary debates, didn't talk about abortion or right-to-life issues on the campaign trail. He believes, as Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts testified at his Senate confirmation hearing, that Roe v. Wade is "settled law."
Medicare is rapidly spiraling into fiscal insolvency, as is Social Security, but Obama didn't address the issue in his campaign, nor in his first term. It was useful to him only as a political weapon to scare the elderly, and his campaign did that ruthlessly and effectively.
Yet unemployment is still skirting 8 percent, though it's closer to 15 percent when you count the underemployed, and shows no signs of falling much below that. This year's budget deficit just rang up another $1.1 trillion in debt and is expected to climb much higher over the next four years.
The Bloomberg news service says that Obama became the president "with the highest unemployment rate to win a second term since Franklin Roosevelt."
There will no doubt be a post-election re-examination of Romney's campaign and the larger problems Republicans need to confront if they are to broaden their party's base.
His campaign allowed Obama to beat him up throughout the summer months without an effective counter-response. He lost more than 70 percent of the pivotal Hispanic vote to Obama, a huge obstacle the GOP must address if it has any hope of winning the presidency again.
The Romney campaign maintained that it had one of the best ground games in the business, but it was clearly outmatched by Obama's much larger ground forces. The campaign should have studied George W. Bush's superior 2004 get-out-the-vote drive that proved to be the strongest in GOP history.
There is always the unexpected in politics, and this time it was the ferocity of Hurricane Sandy in the final, pivotal week of the campaign. Romney was effectively cutting into Obama's numbers, but the hurricane and the president's handling of it became the dominant news story for days, halting Romney's momentum.
The 2012 elections also turned out to be a cold shower for Republicans, who had hoped to win control of Congress this year but fell well short of that goal.
The GOP held on to its House majority, which means Obama's tax rate-hiking agenda is going nowhere in the new Congress. But Republicans suffered a string of losses in their targeted Senate races, even in red states such as Virginia, Montana, Indiana and North Dakota.
In the end, little has changed in Washington. Obama's in the White House for four more years without a mandate to do anything, Congress remains deeply divided, and it's hard to see any needed policy reforms being enacted that will move this economy forward in the ensuing years.
Tighten your seat belts, because we're in for a very long, bumpy ride.
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