OPINION: Back in 2008, Barack Obama's presidential rival John McCain called him an impressive man "who makes a great first impression".
About the same stage of Obama's re-election campaign, new opponent Mitt Romney asked Americans to reflect on whether the best they had felt about their president had been that first election night.
On Wednesday, first impressions long gone, and the presidential record there for anyone to see, Americans returned Obama to office because enough of them accepted he was still, essentially, fighting the good fight.
You could say Obama was looking more seasoned. In truth, he looked more careworn.
The corrosions, frustrations and exhaustions of his presidency had taken their toll but in the end enough people still detected enough vibrancy and vision in his presidency to prefer it to that of Republican whose economic smarts many of them accepted, without feeling that he was entirely on their side.
Obama has ample reason, but scant time, to celebrate.
He first took the presidency at a time of financial crisis with unresolved wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, mounting issues of climate change, and what this paper described as "the small matter of a palpable reduction of what might be called the moral authority of the United States".
His achievements were considerable.
He established universal healthcare, guided the economy to the stage it was no longer in critical care (though still far from healthy) and considerably rehabilitated the nation's international standing. Still a terrible wimp on climate change, sadly.
Obama said in his re-election victory speech: "We are not as divided as our politics suggests. We are greater than the sum of our individual ambitions."
Given the depths of Republican animosity, that may seem more aspirational than realistic.
Politically, however, his position is considerably strengthened.
He doesn't need his opponents to be high-mindedly reasonable - thank heavens.
Just a tad more realistic about what they will simply have to do to avoid emerging as black-hatted villains scornful of the democratic process and minded to be ruinously petulant.
That looming expiry of soon-to-expire Bush-era crutches represents a US$600 billion (NZ$725b) problem that will be resolved by compromise because, quite simply, it must be.
And just about every politician in the US knows it.
The Republicans stand to damage their own corporate supporters if they refuse to step down from their Congressional barricades.
Obama's Democrats will budge a bit to help get most of what they want. Republicans will budge to avoid dire outcomes for their own people.
For their part, US businesses that have been hunkered down awaiting the election result now know to calibrate their investment decisions against the background of an extended Obama presidency.
For practical reasons, this should be a time for animosities to be put aside. Carefully, mind you.
They'll just be going into storage and coming out intact before all that terribly long.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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