Great nations may have greater grace periods, but they don’t get blank checks. Bills come due. Populations age and become more expensive to support. Interest rates do not remain near-zero forever. Overtaxed people figure out new ways to shelter their income from the government, or they renounce their citizenship. Whenever advocates of an expansive welfare state start talking about “economic patriotism”—a phrase Mr. Obama has lately been trying out on the campaign trail—you know the scoundrels really have found their last refuge.

Whether it works for him we’ll know soon enough. It’s astonishing that it should even be close. Mr. Obama memorably predicted a “one-term proposition” if he failed to turn the economy around in three years. What was supposed to be magnetic about him has instead become polarizing. He has alienated not just Republicans but some of his natural allies in Congress and on Wall Street. He seems bored by governance. Judged by normal political standards, he’s incompetent.

Except Mr. Obama does not operate according to normal standards. Maybe this is a function of being the first black president. Or maybe it’s because he is our first cult-of-personality president. Other presidents typically inspired affection, respect or even love; or, alternatively, disappointment and loathing. But Mr. Obama was the first president since George Washington to inspire something like worship in his own lifetime. He is a religious figure cast in a political role. As with the United States itself, the ordinary rules don’t always apply.