In February 2011, my monthly column on this page was written in praise of President Barack Obama.
I cited his outstanding performance at the Tucson memorial, and I wrote: When he finished, I rose from my chair, stood in admiration and applauded. On that evening, Barack Obama, for me, stopped being the president and became my president.
I later added, He stood up to those of his supporters who had, for about four days, been attempting to exploit the tragedy for political gain or to promote their favorite causes or to take cheap shots at the tea party, Fox News, Sarah Palin and others on the political right.
I ended the column with this: ... he will have to temper his remarks and those of his surrogates during the heat of the next presidential election campaign. He must resist the temptation to be the populist and try to turn one group or class of Americans against another.
But in the end ... if he can live up to his inspirational message at the Tucson memorial, he will indeed be leading this country in a direction where it very desperately needs to go the direction of civility and tolerance for those with whom we disagree. And I believe he will.
Now, 18 months later, I feel as though I owe readers of this page an apology.
I could not have been more wrong about those last five words: And I believe he will. Quite to the contrary, he has not.
He is not alone in this. The Romney campaign has not been a paragon of civility either, and both presidential campaigns have been replete with a great deal of spin, distortion and half-truths. Unfortunately, that is politics as usual. But what is disappointing is the fact that Obama spoke at the 2004 Democratic convention, where he first came to national attention, as a new kind of politician as a healer and a uniter.
In the election of 2008 he again portrayed himself as an agent of hope and as an agent of change. He portrayed himself as a man who would change the political culture and the way politics was done. This, despite the fact that he was a product of the Chicago school of politics.
But we believed. We believed by the tens of millions. And we projected onto Obama this relatively blank and unknown tablet all of our hopes and dreams, not reflective of what he was but reflective of everything we wanted him to be.
Like the famous comedian who used to say, The devil made me do it, Obamas supporters will claim the Republicans made him do it, that it was their intransigence that forced him into a hostile and confrontational stance.
Well, maybe. But I once heard and have come to believe that adversity does not build character. It exposes it.
What the American people have to decide in November is whether the character they have seen exposed is the one to lead this country for another four years.
Joseph B. Filko is a community columnist and has taught economics and American government. He can be reached at email@example.com.