Others advance various speculations—for example, maybe he knows some terrible thing from deep in the national-security vaults that has him worried and preoccupied. Could be. But then again, remember that he was cracking wise in spring 2010 at the White House Correspondents Dinner while SEAL Team 6 was in the air on its way to Abbottabad. So I don’t think it’s that. I think he has days when he’s just not that into being president. This possibility can be viewed both sympathetic and judgmentally.
On the sympathy side, the story isn’t really about all those crises. He asked for the job, and they’re part of the territory, although it is undeniably the case that he confronted far more challenges than any other modern president upon entering office. The economic calamity in particular guaranteed that he’d have very little good news to present to the country for nearly the entire first term.
So that’s part of it, but mainly it’s that the reality of his term is undoubtedly so different, and so much worse, than the presidency he envisioned for himself. There’s no doubt that he did envision himself as transformational. Almost everything that had happened in his life before becoming president—succeeding at everything, often leaving observers in awe of him—clearly suggested to him that he’d conquer the presidency. He also believed, I think really genuinely believed, that he was and could be a post-partisan figure.