A glimpse of the old magic but a hard road lies ahead

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For a few minutes early yesterday, Barack Obama implored Americans to ignore the fact that half of the country had voted for his opponent, and it worked. "Tonight you voted for action, not politics as usual," the President told supporters in Chicago, in an appeal for bipartisanship that recalled the early days of his first term. He soon discovered, in 2009, that hatred for the country's first black President among some Republicans was so deep-seated that their leaders would block him every step of the way.

But this was an older, wiser and greyer Obama. It was still a speech about hope, but he is no longer a Pollyanna, if ever he was. "I have never been more hopeful about America. And I ask you to sustain that hope," he said, but added: "I'm not talking about blind optimism, the kind of hope that just ignores the enormity of the tasks ahead or the roadblocks that stand in our path."

And so he would reach out to Mitt Romney to discuss how, together, they could "move this country forward". He pledged to work with leaders of both parties to meet the challenges of reducing the deficit, reforming the tax code, fixing the immigration system and "freeing ourselves from foreign oil".

Half of the items on that list would make the average Republican choke. But Mr Obama said he was determined to press on because "despite all the frustrations of Washington", and the gridlock and difficulties of forging compromise, Americans' shared hopes for the future demanded it.

He pointed to the evidence of the past few days, when he had worked with politicians of every stripe to clean up after Hurricane Sandy. For a while, America was once again under the spell of Mr Obama's optimistic rhetoric. Now comes the hard part.

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