The Task Ahead

Highlights from Democratic nominee Barack Obama's acceptance speech from Grant Park in Chicago, Illinois after election results came in Tuesday, Nov. 4, 2008.Video by APEditor: Jacqueline Refo/
By David S. Broder
Thursday, November 6, 2008

The celebration of Barack Obama's victory was genuine and heartfelt, as it should have been. No one who has lived in this country and knows its history can be insensitive to the significance of his election.

Symbolically and substantively, it sends a message here and abroad about the distance we have traveled from our segregated, racist past.

As John McCain acknowledged in his gracious concession speech, whatever one's partisan preference, the rise of this talented and eloquent black man to the highest office is worth celebrating for what it says about this nation, its people and our democracy.

But Obama himself made the important point when he told the cheering crowd in Chicago's Grant Park that "the task that lies ahead" is a daunting one and that all he has won is the right to tackle it.

Probably no one in our history has been elected into leadership of a nation simultaneously fighting two wars, grappling with a global economic breakdown and facing huge challenges in its medical system, its energy system and its fiscal system.

The first question Obama will have to answer is whether he can summon the best resources of both parties to confront these tests.

I think the answer is yes, but only Obama can provide definitive proof.

On Tuesday night, I asked two of the wisest and most broad-minded people I know in Washington what they thought of Obama's prospects. One of them, Sen. Chris Dodd of Connecticut, opposed Obama for the Democratic presidential nomination earlier this year. The other, retiring Republican Rep. Ray LaHood of Illinois, was an early and ardent supporter of McCain.

Both of them are very upbeat about what comes next.

Dodd, who endorsed Obama after his own candidacy fizzled, said the Illinois senator "doesn't know Washington that well" after only four years in the Senate, "but he's got Joe Biden with him."

The vice president-elect, with decades of Senate experience and a host of friendships, can help smooth his way, but more important, Dodd said, "Obama has a wonderful temperament. He knows he has to build real relationships for anything to happen. He doesn't have them now, but his instincts are perfect."

LaHood was equally enthusiastic. He recalled that the same week Obama was elected to the Senate, he phoned LaHood and asked if he could come visit him in Peoria -- in order to build a relationship that permitted them to work together on Illinois projects. "This year, we had six bipartisan dinners," LaHood said. "I think he knows that he has to be bipartisan to deal with these problems. And I think he will surround himself with people like [Chicago congressman] Rahm Emanuel, who feel the same way."

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