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Jeff Jacoby

Obama wins an ugly victory

A line making the rounds in recent weeks was that while Mitt Romney’s supporters were anxious because the opinion polls were neck-and-neck, Barack Obama’s backers were angry that the race was so close.

Angry they might well have been. After all, it wasn’t supposed to be like this for the 44th president of the United States. As the nation’s first African-American chief executive, Obama swept to power on an unprecedented wave of adulation and excitement. He’d won the popular vote by a margin of nearly 10 million, and carried states — such as Indiana, Virginia, and North Carolina — where no Democratic nominee had prevailed in decades. With Democrats in control of both houses of Congress, and job-approval ratings in the high 60s, the Obama presidency was launched on the wings of eagles.

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Who would have thought that four years later, Obama’s reelection would have proved such a struggle? Late last night, the Democrat who so easily cruised to 365 electoral votes in 2008 was still fighting to reach the 270 he needed to win a second term. This time Indiana reverted to red, and North Carolina followed suit. It wasn’t until hours after the polls in Ohio closed that that quintessential “battleground” state finally tipped the election to Obama.

Obama may have eked out a victory, but he won it ugly, and his first term will go down as one of the great squandered boons in American political history. Rarely has a president come to office with such a reservoir of goodwill; rarely has any done so much to poison it. To cling to office, he spent a vast fortune trashing his opponent — a ferocious campaign that epitomized everything he once claimed to oppose.

The last four years changed Obama from the face of “hope and change” to the candidate of “whatever it takes.” What will the next four years bring?

Jeff Jacoby can be reached at jacoby@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @jeff_jacoby.
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