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Obama won the presidency on the strength of his message and the skills of the messenger. Now the talk of hope and change feels out of tune when so many Americans are out of work, over-mortgaged, and worried that life will be even tougher for their children.
President George W. Bush won reelection in 2004 largely because he was seen as comfortable in his own skin, while rival John Kerry was viewed as a flip-flopping opportunist.
The question is whether voters, particularly independents, believe that Obama truly values personal liberty and responsibility as much as the government-bought safety net.
To be fair, my analysis failed to spell out Obama's first-term accomplishments, although I did acknowledge his 'enormous skills' and tried to focus readers on the distinction between good and great presidencies.
You can almost see voters nodding their heads at home: The public's faith in politicians and political institutions has been on a steep and dangerous decline for decades, because elected leaders fail to deliver.
A sagging economy, a soaring national debt, and an increasingly restive Congress pushed Obama to order troop reductions that are both deeper and faster than recommended by his military commanders.
'Argo,' 'Lincoln,' and 'Zero Dark Thirty,' three films honored with Best Picture Oscar nominations, lionize their Washington-anchored protagonists as crafty, competent, and virtually incorruptible.
Christie led the way - with a bulldozer. The governor is blunt, brash, and self-consciously authentic, the antithesis to what turns off today's voters: flip-flopping politicians who speak in poll-tested platitudes. Yes, he's the anti-Romney.
Most political journalists come to Washington because they're snappy writers, big thinkers, or news breakers. Me? My ticket to the big leagues had little to do with talent. It was mostly about the governor I was covering, Bill Clinton.
Movies such as 'Mr. Smith Goes to Washington' in 1939 to 'Dave' in 1993 portray Washington leaders as the ultimate Everymen - decent people just like you and me, only thrust onto greatness.
Obama considers himself above deal-making and back-slapping, political necessities he often delegates to Vice President Joe Biden and other lesser sorts.
Say what you want to say about the rest of his presidency, including his tone-deaf response to Katrina and a war waged in Iraq on false pretenses, Bush connected with Americans in the aftermath of 9/11 because he looked as frail and unforgiving as we felt.
Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton is the most influential woman in Washington - for what she has accomplished and for what she may yet do: win the presidency.
The failure of the White House and Congress to seriously address the nation's fiscal situation is certain to broaden the belief among many voters that the U.S. political system is broken.
The problem, gentlemen, is that Obama is right: The promise of upward mobility is dying in America, and no amount of political demagoguery will fix it.
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Hunter S. Thompson
William F. Buckley, Jr.
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