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Perfecting the union

NEW YORK – Beyond Iraq, beyond the economy, beyond health care, there was something even more fundamental to stake in this US election won by Barack Obama: the self-respect of the American people.

For almost eight years, Americans have seen words stripped of meaning, lives sacrificed to confront nonexistent Iraqi weapons, and other existences ravaged by serial incompetence on an epic scale.

Against all this, Obama made a simple bet and stuck to it. If you trusted the fundamental decency, civility and good sense of the American people, even at the end of a season of fear and loss, you could forge a new politics and win the day.

Four years ago, at the Democratic convention, in the speech that lifted him from obscurity, Obama said: "For alongside our famous individualism, there's another ingredient in the American saga: a belief that we are connected as one people."

He never wavered from that theme. "In this country, we rise or fall as one nation, as one people," he declared in his victory speech to a joyous crowd in Chicago.

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In that four-year span, Obama never got angry. Without breaking a sweat, he took down two of the most ruthless political machines on the planet: first the Clintons and then the Republican Party.

An idea has power. John McCain had many things in this campaign, but an idea was not one of them. At a time of economic crisis, he could not order his thoughts about it.
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