In Obama's case, 42 months of 8-percent-plus unemployment, laggard GDP growth, $4-a-gallon gas, a precipitous drop in average family income, record numbers on food stamps, serial $1 trillion budget deficits and $5 trillion in new national debt can no longer be packaged as either a "summer of recovery" or George Bush's legacy -- and so are left unmentioned.
The current presidential race remains a seesaw battle because for all the advantages of incumbency and the president's charisma, the public is not happy with the Obama administration's record on the economy. And it does not believe -- at least at this juncture -- that Romney is the villain that the Obama campaign has portrayed.
Yet Romney trudges rather than sprints ahead because he is no glib Ronald Reagan. He is also the first Mormon candidate in the general election and a very rich man at a time when Americans are growing angrier by the day that they are far poorer than they were four years ago.
The country is also not quite ready to confess that it went a little crazy in 2008 and voted for the embarrassing banalities of "hope and change" offered by a little known senator with a thin resume and little national experience. Again, no voter likes to admit that he was led to the polls in a trance by the mellifluous music of a pied piper.
Obama's present paradox is that the more he goes negative against Romney, the less the slurs seem to stick, and the less presidential the self-avowed ethical reformer appears. Yet because the economy is not going to noticeably improve by November, Obama believes he must continue in hopes of discovering a bona fide Romney scandal, or that he must claim the country is threatened abroad and in need of national unity.
Barring a real recovery or a sudden war, the steady, plodding Romney tortoise is ever so slowly winning the race against the flashier -- surging, yet always fading -- Obama hare.