Political attitudes can change rapidly. In 1972, Richard Nixon was re-elected by the largest popular vote margin in American history. Two years later, he'd been driven from office and Democrats made massive gains in Congress (49 seats in the House, five in the Senate).
In 1976, Jimmy Carter was elected president, promising "hope" and "change." Four years later Ronald Reagan ousted him and Republicans took control of the Senate for the first time since 1954.
In 1992, Bill Clinton beat the first President Bush by 5.6 percentage points in the popular vote and slaughtered him in the electoral college, 370 to 168. Two years later, Republicans gained 54 congressional seats, to take control of the House for the first time since 1954, and eight in the Senate.
In 2008, Barack Obama won by margins comparable to Bill Clinton's in 1992. President Obama hopes to establish an era of Democratic dominance, as Ronald Reagan did for the Republicans in 1980.
As he demonstrated yet again in his quasi state of the union address Tuesday, Mr. Obama is the finest orator in American politics since Reagan. A CNN poll indicated 68 percent of those who heard the speech had a "very positive" reaction to it.
Those inspired by Mr. Obama's soaring rhetoric overlooked some large contradictions. The Bush deficits were bad, but he proposes to triple them, then cut them in half within four years, and do this without raising taxes on 95 percent of Americans or leaving a mountain of debt for our grandchildren. He's going to expand health care coverage, while reducing its cost. He'll impose a "cap and trade" carbon emissions plan that will generate revenue and create jobs while easing global warming.
"Sounds great, but I wouldn't risk the kids' college funds on it if there were any money left in their college funds," wrote Washington Post columnist Ruth Marcus, an Obama supporter during the campaign.
The Dow Jones Industrial Average fell 80 points the day after the president's speech, which suggests investors were not impressed with his plans for the economy.
Mr. Obama is more popular than his policies. He has proposed more money for the financial services industry, for automakers in Detroit and for homeowners who took out larger mortgages than they could afford. According to a Rasmussen poll released Tuesday, 62 percent of respondents oppose bailing out all three, 54 percent oppose bailing out any of them.
Meanwhile, Mr. Obama's personal popularity isn't as sky-high as his cheerleaders in the news media would have you believe. According to a Gallup poll taken a month into his presidency, 63 percent of respondents approved of the job Mr. Obama was doing, and 24 percent disapproved. George W. Bush, who largely was denied the traditional presidential "honeymoon" because of the controversy over the 2000 vote count in Florida, had a 62 percent approval rate and a 21 percent disapproval rate a month into his presidency.
Ratings a month into a presidency don't count for much. Ronald Reagan, at 55 percent, had the lowest. Jimmy Carter, at 71 percent, the highest.
Reagan's oratorical skills boosted his popularity. But what made it endure was that his policies were successful. Inheriting an economy more troubled than ours is today, his tax cuts triggered an economic boom that was then the longest in American history. When Mr. Reagan took the oath of office, the Soviets were in Afghanistan and mullahs in Iran were holding Americans hostage. The hostages were freed moments later; the Soviet Union was crumbling by the end of his term.
Barack Obama ultimately will be judged by the success of his policies, not by how well he describes them. If they work, the comparisons to Franklin Roosevelt will be validated. If they don't, Jimmy Carter may no longer be viewed as the worst president in modern times.