As Barack Obama gave his victory speech and his audience listened with tears and smiles, I leaned away from the computer for the first time in many hours and just watched. I was impressed with how Obama used his time to prepare his supporters — and all of us — for the challenges ahead rather than using the speech to whip the enraptured crowd into the frenzy of victory. He seemed to take only passing joy in his historic win. You could see the weight of responsibility settling across his shoulders.

I do not know what kind of president Obama will be. And neither do all his opponents who, throughout the campaign, tossed out dire warnings about Obama’s liberalness and inexperience. But if his first speech as president-elect is any indication, he will not be a president to take the responsibilities of office lightly. There will be no worry about sultry interns. Or jokes about not finding weapons of mass destruction.

Seriousness does not equal effectiveness. But over the last sixteen years, our nation has descended into a level of partisan childishness that threatens our ability to work together for a common good. Even after the worst attack ever endured on our soil, we rapidly collapsed back into petty bickering and juvenile power games. One side was labeled Nazis. The other side was called traitors. No one benefitted.

Obama might be wholly incapable of raising us out of this gutter. But I think he’ll try. I think he will speak to us like citizens. I think he’ll ask us to contribute. And I think he’ll keep the political tone elevated at a level of seriousness we have not seen in a long time. I could be wrong. But I have hope.

Many have argued that the only thing that matters when electing a president is their record and their policies. I disagree. A president is not just a facilitator of policy. A president is a leader, guiding the national conversations and moods and attitudes. Obama has the potential to be a great leader. I hope he lives up to all his promise.

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