President Obama proved he could win re-election without a second-term agenda merely by demonizing his opponent and appealing to the voters' fears instead of our hopes, dreams and aspirations.
The man who promised to end the bitter divisions and small mindedness of American politics, which he called a vindictive "blood sport," mounted a campaign of personal destruction of his own that ignored our troubling economic, social and civil decline.
The post-election result is a crippled presidency without a public mandate or mission to tackle the immense issues that threaten to plunge an ever-weakening economy into a deeper, long-lasting recession.
From the start, Mr. Obama's campaign was all about class warfare, dividing the nation between low- to middle-class Americans on one side and upper-income Americans and the business class on the other.
It worked. Roughly half of the nation bought into his Elmer Gantry demagoguery. The other half didn't. Mr. Obama carried 25 states, including the biggest electoral prizes, and Mitt Romney carried 24. (Florida is still in doubt.)
The president's campaign ads -- models of character assassination -- defined Mr. Romney as a ruthless corporate takeover thug who fired workers, sold off company assets and became rich in the process. He was portrayed as a man who declared war on women, threw the elderly out in the snow, and favored the rich at the expense of the middle class.
The truth is that Mr. Romney founded a respected venture capital company that invested in start-up businesses and built them into some of the most successful enterprises in the nation, creating hundreds of thousands of jobs and careers in the process.
Some did not work out, but most did: Staples, Toys R Us, Domino's Pizza, Sports Authority, Burger King and many more. Mr. Romney was building businesses, jobs and incomes when Mr. Obama was a neighborhood organizer for the welfare state.
As the race heated up and the polls tightened, Mr. Obama's TV attack ads became more vicious and desperate. One of them ended with the racially suggestive message, "He's not one of us." Vice President Joseph R. Biden told a heavily black audience that Mr. Romney's policies would "put y'all back in chains."
An early Obama ad that sought to raise questions about Mr. Romney's job-creating talents portrayed his four years as governor of Massachusetts as a failure on job growth. In fact, he ended his governorship with the state's unemployment at a low 4.7 percent.
Mr. Obama's campaign was all about the art of the attack, not about what he would do for the country over the next four years to lift the economy out of what voters say feels like a recession and put millions of unemployed Americans back to work.
He didn't talk about any of this because he had no plan to deal with the paramount issues of slow economic growth -- beyond more federal "stimulus" spending or raising taxes on upper-income Americans who run small businesses. These are the same ideas from his first term that either failed to get America moving again or were rejected by Congress, even when Democrats were in charge.
Instead, his campaign attacks played to the fears of the major constituencies he courted. Women: Mr. Romney would overturn Roe v. Wade and make abortions illegal. Seniors: He would "end Medicare as we know it" and Social Security checks would be his next target.
But Mr. Romney, except when asked in the party primary debates, didn't talk about abortion or right-to-life issues on the campaign trail. He believes, as Supreme Court Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. testified at his Senate confirmation hearing, that Roe v. Wade is "settled law."
Medicare is rapidly spiraling into fiscal insolvency, as is Social Security, but Mr. Obama didn't address the issue in his campaign, nor in his first term. It was useful to him only as a political weapon to scare the elderly and his campaign did that ruthlessly and effectively.
Yet unemployment is still skirting 8 percent, though it's closer to 15 percent when you count the underemployed, and shows no signs of falling much below that. This year's budget deficit just rang up another $1.1 trillion in debt and is expected to climb much higher over the next four years.
The Bloomberg news service says Mr. Obama became the president "with the highest unemployment rate to win a second term since Franklin Roosevelt."
There no doubt will be a post-election re-examination of Mr. Romney's campaign and the larger problems Republicans need to confront if they are to broaden their party's base.
His campaign allowed Mr. Obama to beat him up throughout the summer months without an effective response. He lost more than 70 percent of the pivotal Hispanic vote to Mr. Obama, a huge obstacle the GOP must address if it has any hope of winning the presidency again.
The Romney campaign maintained that it had one of the best ground games in the business, but it was clearly outmatched by Mr. Obama's much larger ground forces. They should have studied George W. Bush's superior 2004 get-out-the-vote drive that proved to be the strongest in GOP history.
There is always the unexpected in politics and this one had the ferocity of Superstorm Sandy in the final, pivotal week of the campaign. Mr. Romney was effectively cutting into Mr. Obama's numbers, but the storm and the president's handling of it became the dominant news story for days, halting Mr. Romney's momentum.
The 2012 elections also turned out to be a cold shower for Republicans, who had hoped to win control of Congress this year but fell well short of that goal.
The GOP held on to its House majority, which means Mr. Obama's tax-hiking agenda is going nowhere in the new Congress. But it suffered a string of losses in targeted Senate races, even in traditional red states such as Virginia, Montana, Indiana and North Dakota.
In the end, little has changed in Washington. Mr. Obama will stay in the White House for four more years without a mandate to do anything, Congress remains deeply divided, and it is hard to see any needed policy reforms being enacted that will move this economy forward in the ensuing years.
Tighten your seat belts because we're in for a very long, bumpy ride.
Donald Lambro is a syndicated columnist and former chief political correspondent for The Washington Times.
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