With the economy still in shambles and millions out of work or underemployed, President Barack Obama was still able to celebrate re-election on Tuesday. But the man from Chicago paid a price.
You could see the exhaustion in him leading up to Election Day. He's gone gray before our eyes. There are lines in that once-youthful face. He still flashes the smile, but it's a hard smile and his eyes don't smile much.
But who wouldn't be exhausted in that job, while running that kind of campaign?
It could have been easier if he'd listened to the Chicago political guys and focused on putting people back to work rather than stubbornly ramming a massive nationalized health care plan through Congress with his former Democratic majority.
But he held to principle. Like me, you may disagree with him and his yearning for all that hideous federal muscle. But to be fair, you have to credit the man. He risked it all to do what he thought should be done. And he won.
Now, though, it gets worse, not better. He's going to have a difficult time governing after the kind of campaign he's run. Obama's re-election proved one thing true about American politics:
Negative campaigning really works when you don't have a record to run on.
He didn't even attempt to unify the nation in 2012. Instead he chopped it into pieces in order to reassemble a winning political map. Gone was the optimistic young fellow of 2008, soothing a nation with soaring, messianic rhetoric, talking of great ideas. This time it was all about class warfare and race and gender cards and anger.
So President Gandhi became President Revenge.
"Don't boo, vote!" he shouted to a campaign crowd that was booing his opponent, Republican Mitt Romney. "Voting is the best revenge!"
Revenge? That's so Chicago.
If he had lost, a thousand villains would have been flogged by his adoring acolytes in the media. Racism, not his abysmal, job-killing economic policies, would have been blamed. Others would have cried "voter suppression," as former Democratic Chairman Howard Dean shrieked Tuesday, using fear to get out the Obama vote in Ohio. But Obama won.
Yet what did he win, exactly, except a second term?
"This has been the most polarizing, divisive campaign in history," Democratic pollster Doug Schoen told Jake Hartford and me before the election on WLS-AM 890, where we're filling in as weekday co-hosts from 9 to 11 a.m. "It's going to be very difficult, if not impossible, for him to govern, given the polarization and division that this election has occasioned."
The president's victory means that the few remaining centrist Democrats won't be able to redefine the party for 2016. The centrists have been cast adrift. The Democrats rule from the left now. It's the triumph of Roosevelt over Reagan.
Obama's whipping boys, the congressional Republicans, won't be eager to reach any sort of compromise with the man who vilified them. They're up for election in just two years. Big-government GOP moderates will now face off against conservatives and libertarians hoping to reclaim their party from the establishment pro-war corporatists.
Obama was ripe for the picking, yes, but Romney ran a terrible campaign. Historians will trace it back to the pungent "Etch A Sketch" comment by Romney strategist Eric Fehrnstrom.
After Romney campaigned as a conservative in the primaries, Fehrnstrom announced the candidate would hit the "reset button" to become a moderate.
"Everything changes," Fehrnstrom told CNN months ago. "It's almost like an Etch A Sketch. You can kind of shake it up and we start all over again."
The Republican grass-roots blanched. Who was this man, a conservative, a flip-flopper? Or just another establishment Republican corporatist without a core.