“When people see a strong horse and a weak horse, by nature they will like the strong horse,” Osama bin Laden once said. Shortly thereafter, if campaign literature can be believed, bin Laden was found, seized, then torn apart, limb from limb by the bare hands of Barack Obama — with no help from anyone else. Period. But despite the president’s heroics, he may be falling victim to the late terrorist’s proverb.
No one, not even the president’s most breathless, fervent supporters, could argue that Barack Obama was elected in 2008 on the strength of his resume. It wasn’t strong. Obama could boast a little about his academic achievements, but, without releasing his college records, he couldn’t say too much. His legislative career wasn’t impressive either. And he had never held an executive position. Never. This is a truth that cannot be overstated. The most powerful nation on Earth elected to its highest office a man who had never managed, directed or overseen anything anywhere — not a brigade, not a business, not a committee, not even a campaign for the Illinois state senate. In the autumn of 2008, the entirety of Barack Obama’s leadership experience consisted of running a local voter drive in 1992.
But he won.
For various reasons that revealed more about the country than the candidate, Obama was vaulted to the highest echelons of power on little more than a promise of change. He was an unknown, a blank slate onto which 53% of the nation projected their hopes. More than half of the electorate — millions of sensible, smart Americans, accomplished people with degrees and wealth and private property — participated in contemporaneous mythmaking about their candidate’s potential and greatness and potential greatness. With vague but soaring rhetoric, Barack Obama rode those myths to victory, and, in so doing, fulfilled and crystallized a strange aura of inevitability.
The very fact that he was elected president became the reason he should be president. It was somehow proof of his excellence and genius. Yes, he had the entire media apparatus at his back, singing his praises, but the electorate wasn’t stupid. The electorate was complicit in the mythmaking, stitching their best wishes over their candidate’s blemishes. Obama voters became invested in these myths — many still are — because they felt virtuous by voting for him.
When he won, they won. And he kept winning. Despite the dismal economy, the unemployment rate, despite unpopular legislation, foreign policy snafus, despite gaffes and open mike embarrassments, Obama was still winning, still leading in the polls. Despite everything, an Obama victory was still inevitable.
And then he lost.
Over the last four years, Obama’s faithful could and did blame third parties — the banks, the rich, Bush, Congress, Israel, the tea party, the Olympic committee, etc. — for nearly all of the president’s failures. They were fighting for themselves as much as they were fighting for Obama. But many gave up the fight on October 3.