But even some of Obama's biggest fans admitted that his devotion to the magical power of words stemmed from the fact that he had little else going for him. "Barack Obama could not run his campaign for the presidency based on political accomplishment or on the heroic service of his youth," David Remnick wrote in the New Yorker after Obama won the general election. "His record was too slight. His Democratic and Republican opponents were right: he ran largely on language, on the expression of a country's potential and the self-expression of a complicated man who could reflect and lead that country."
Fast-forward to this week. Obama's undisciplined diatribe against the "purists" in his own party who oppose compromise amounted to an abject admission that Hillary was right all along.
"Measuring success" by the no-compromise standard, Obama declared, means "we will never get anything done. People will have the satisfaction of having a purist position and no victories for the American people. And we will be able to feel good about ourselves and sanctimonious about how pure our intentions are." But, he suggested, liberals will make little progress.
Obama then went on a stem-winder about how "this is a big, diverse country. Not everybody agrees with us. I know that shocks people. The New York Times editorial page does not permeate across all of America."
All true. And the Democrats are being foolishly purist, as we saw Thursday when House Democrats voted to reject the tax compromise.
But denouncing purists and accepting that significant swaths of America aren't going to be persuaded by your rhetoric is an admission that the Obama vision of the presidency either doesn't work or that Obama isn't up to the job of making it work.
Indeed, even on health-care reform, his signature accomplishment, Obama failed to mobilize and inspire the American people to his side. He got that passed with LBJ-like legislative skullduggery and sleight of hand, not "yes we can!" rhetoric.
Admitting you're wrong is part of growing up, and growing up can be painful. At least it certainly looked painful watching it on TV.