During the campaign of 2008, Barack Obama's eloquent assessments of what was going wrong with the federal government impressed the nation.
Even those of us whose values and priorities were more conservative had hoped he would lead the country through the tough decisions necessary to hasten a return to better times.
Obama has not delivered on his grand promises. His scheduled arrival in Tampa today to speak at Hillsborough Community College is a reminder of the many ways he must change his campaign message to account for a lackluster first term. He has left the economy floundering and the nation even more divided.
The high approval ratings he took to the White House evaporated within months when he bet the nation's future on a surge in stimulus spending.
In June 2009, the number of people who strongly disapproved of his leadership began to outnumber those who strongly approved, according to the Rasmussen approval index. The ratio has remained negative every day for three years.
The latest polling shows 27 percent strongly approve and 41 percent strongly disapprove.
Even as employers struggled in the bad economy, Obama made mandatory health insurance his top priority. He forced a complicated bill through Congress and gave the nation reforms that are hard to understand. Its potential costs frighten business and probably discourage hiring.
Some of the displeasure with Obama is partisan and ideological — to be expected in a two-party system. But a significant part of it is based on Obama's unbridled short-term spending that has made the federal debt soar and the nation's economic future more uncertain.
One of his most disappointing mistakes was to totally ignore the principled proposals of his own deficit-reduction panel, the Simpson-Bowles Commission, named for Republican Alan Simpson and Democrat Erskine Bowles. They must think their reasonable ideas were tied to a rock and dropped down a well.
Obama instead put exaggerated importance of pointless expenses such as the "cash for clunkers" program. He made unfounded promises about green energy. He treated as a watershed event the question of whether to extend a temporary lower interest rate for certain federal loans to college students.
Obama's best idea for younger workers has been to cut the payroll tax, but it's a temporary solution that only darkens the financial future of Medicare and Social Security. He has expressed no sympathy for local governments struggling to pay higher pension costs and doesn't seem bothered that the United States now has the highest corporate income tax rate in the world.
We readily acknowledge that Obama's administration has approved many good projects for Florida and the Tampa area. Some of the stimulus money will pay long-term dividends, especially the federal money going into the new toll road that will link the Tampa port to Interstate 4. We believe conservatives who branded all such expenses as waste were mistaken. Jobs were saved and created.
Obama was right, in our opinion, to award Florida money for high-speed rail from Tampa to Orlando. It was a project that made far more economic sense than California's plan because Florida already owned most of the right-of-way. At the time Obama was enthusiastic and compared himself to former President Dwight Eisenhower, who started the interstate highway network.
But when Florida Gov. Rick Scott arbitrarily rejected the rail project, we wished Obama had vigorously made the case for the logical first leg of what was to be a nationwide system. Instead of detailing why the Florida route was justified, he seemed content to send the money somewhere else, treating the rail grant as little more than a gift to give.
He has been uninspiring on many issues. Instead of building a case for returning the House to Democratic control and giving his party custody of the national checkbook, he seems to want to distract us.
Elections are good at focusing public attention on top priorities. This year it's the economy.
Obama is one the best campaigners in history, but he has one of the toughest themes to sell to voters: It could have been worse.