Bad year: Barack Obama

This was supposed to be the pivot year for President Obama. After two years in office defined by a protracted and politically disastrous fight over health care, a liberal base dissatisfied with the pace of change and major losses at the ballot box, 2011 was when Obama and his team were going to get back on track with a message laser-focused on jobs and the economy.

It was anything but.

The economic turnaround that the White House expected simply didn't materialize, leaving Republicans to giddily bash the president as a know-nothing and Democrats to scrounge around for any bit of good news. (The unemployment rate is below 9 percent!). And, a series of crises and tragedies — the attempted assassination of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.), the massive Japanese earthquake, the prolonged and bitterly partisan fight over raising the debt ceiling — made it next to impossible for the president to put his preferred economic message front and center.

And that's not even taking into account the truth-is-stranger-than-fiction day in April when the president himself entered the White House briefing room to prove, once and for all, that he was born in the United States. Thanks — for nothing — to Donald Trump on that one.

That's not to say that Obama didn't have good moments this year. The killing of Osama bin Laden, the most wanted man in the world, provided glowing headlines and talk among some politicos that bin Laden's death had effectively secured a second term for the incumbent. A month later — if it even took that long — the political bump was gone, and Obama's job-approval ratings were back in the low to mid-40s.

Counting Obama out in 2012 — from either a policy or a political perspective — would be a mistake. But it's beyond dispute that he and his senior aides are in a far weaker position than they had hoped for as he prepares to enter an election year.

Chris Cillizza writes the political blog The Fix and is managing editor of