Applauding Mitt Romney's choice "to give back in public service and legacy" and vowing to work across the aisle with him in the weeks ahead, President Obama told a packed room at his Chicago victory rally that he returns to his second term in the White House "more determined and more inspired than ever about the future that lies ahead."
"Whether I earned your vote or not," the president said early this morning in a glancing reference to Romney's now-infamous "47 percent" comment, "I have listened to you, I have learned form you, and you made me a better president."
Mr. Obama took the stage at Chicago's McCormick Place with his wife, Michelle, two daughters, and Vice President Joe Biden, whom he labeled his "friend and partner of the last four years, America's happy warrior, the best vice president anybody could ever hope for." What was expected to be a long night of close calls ended relatively early with a game-changing win for the president in the battleground state of Ohio.
Echoing lines from his stump speech, the president argued that while political campaigns "sometimes seem small" and allow "plenty of fodder for cynics," the ultimate goal uniting Americans from both political parties and all walks of life is to provide hope for "the child in North Carolina who wants to become a doctor, scientist, engineer or an entrepreneur, a diplomat, or even a president."
While "we will disagree, sometimes fiercely, about how to get there," he continued, "as it has for more than two centuries, progress will come in fits and starts. It's not always a straight line; it's not always a smooth past. ...That common bond is where we must begin.
"Our economy is recovering, a decade of war is ending, a long campaign is now over," he said to cheers.
In his remarks, which ran for more than 20 minutes, Mr. Obama re-embraced the campaign mantle of "hope and change" that helped usher him to victory in 2008, and which the Republican ticket in recent weeks repurposed as its own. "Tonight you voted for action, not politics as usual," he said.
"Despite all the hardship we've been through, despite all the frustrations of Washington, I've never been more hopeful about our future; I have never been more hopeful about America," the president continued. "And I ask you to sustain that hope. 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. I'm not talking about the wishful idealism that allows us to just sit on the sidelines or shirk from a fight.
"I have always believed that hope is that stubborn thing inside - that despite all the evidence to the contrary, that we have something to keep fighting for," he said. "America, I believe we can build on the progress we've made and continue to fight for new jobs and new opportunities and new security for the middle class."
Promising to deliver leadership for a bipartisan effort on everything from the upcoming "fiscal cliff" to immigration reform, the president said he would sit down with Romney in the weeks ahead "to talk about where we can work together to move this country forward."
"Democracy in a nation of 300 million can be noisy and messy and complicated," Mr. Obama said. "We have our own opinions. Each of us has deeply held beliefs. And when we go through tough times - when we make big decisions as a country - it necessarily stirs passions, stirs up controversy. That won't change after tonight, and it shouldn't.
"These arguments we have are a mark of our liberty," he continued. "We can never forget that as we speak, people in distant nations are risking their lives right now just for a chance to argue about the issues that matter - the chance to cast their ballots, like we did today."