Hell vote for Romney.
Obama had hoped for more, of course. He came to office with dreams of being a unifying leader who would transform the country and its politics. He invited comparisons to Abraham Lincoln. The news media pictured him as Franklin D. Roosevelt, marshaling an expansive federal government in a time of economic peril, and building an enduring Democratic majority in the process.
His first chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel, famously looked out at an anxious country and saw opportunity for a broad agenda.
They were wrong, said George Edwards, a presidential scholar and author of several books on the presidency. They thought the public was malleable and would be responsive to bold initiatives. Instead, it made the public resistant. It did not signal increased liberalism. It did not signal increased support for government activism. . . . When people are losing their jobs, seeing their retirement disappear, they become cautious. They spend less. Theyre more cautious about change.
Presidents dream of sweeping changes that can win them a place in history, but the country since the end of the Cold War has often balked.
Bill Clinton pushed nationalized health care after being elected in 1992. The country rose up and threw his Democrats out of power in the House of Representatives in 1994. He settled into a role of forging agreements with the Republicans, balanced the budget, and left office a popular leader, despite personal scandal.
After the terrorist attacks of 2001, George W. Bush saw a mandate to wage war on terrorists wherever he found them. The country rallied to his side. But after he launched a war on Iraq under what turned out to be false pretenses, he managed to squeak by in a close re-election, and then watched the country turn on him, throw his Republicans out of power in the House in 2006. He returned to Texas two years later, one of the least popular presidents in modern times.
And after Obama pushed through his health care law on a party-line vote in 2010, the voters threw his party out of power in the House in a landslide.
In fact, the country now is on the verge of a possible fourth straight change of course after tossing the Republicans out of the House majority in 2006, the Republicans out of the White House in 2008, and the Democrats out of the House majority in 2010.
Weve had three change elections in a row, said Lee Miringoff, director of the Marist College Institute for Public Opinion. Its unclear where the country is headed, or what the country is looking for.
Anita Kumar and Franco Ordonez contributed.