Obama’s high from Osama bin Laden’s execution wore off within a month. Now his approval ratings are back where they’ve been for most of the last 18 months, below 50%.

The basic reasons for this are identical to those that rendered Bush Sr. a one-term president: the economy. The raft of recent data suggesting stubborn unemployment, a collapsed housing market and elusive growth has coincided with rising gas prices and a stock market in virtual freefall. Of the nine states that Obama took from Republicans in 2008,unemployment is up in all of them by, on average, a third. Obama supporters like to counter these facts by reciting a list of his achievements , thereby utterly missing the point. A list never clothed or housed anyone or fed their kids.

Those who believe Obama’s defeat unthinkable should remember that his victory was nowhere near as emphatic as it appeared. Despite his strengths as a candidate, superior funding, a well-run campaign, the economic crisis and the failures of his Republican predecessor, he only got 53% of the vote. True, there were 192 electoral college votes between him and McCain. But 73 of those – Florida, Ohio, North Carolina and Indiana – were won with just 52% of the vote or less.

As the 1980 election campaign drew to a close, Reagan famously ended a debate with the questions: “Are you better off than you were four years ago? Is it easier for you to go and buy things in the stores than four years ago? Is there more or less unemployment in the country than there was four years ago?” Obama’s opponent would merely have to repeat the questions verbatim to recast him as Jimmy Carter 2.0.

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