swoon. If Obama cannot end gridlock in Washington, his second term will be reduced to veto threats, empty promises, end runs around Congress and legacy-sealing forays into foreign lands.
Obama will push for higher taxes on the wealthy as a way to shrink a choking federal debt and to steer money toward the programmes he wants. He will try to land a massive financial deficit-cutting deal with Congress in the coming months and then move on to an immigration overhaul, tax reform and other bipartisan dreams.
He will not have to worry that his health care law will be repealed, or that his Wall Street reforms will be gutted, or that his name will be consigned to the list of one-term presidents who got fired before they could finish their work. Voters stuck with him because they trusted him more to solve the struggles of their lifetime.
America may not be filled with hope anymore, but it told Mitt Romney to keep his change. And voters sure didn't shake up the rest of Washington, either.
They put back all the political players who have made the capital dysfunctional to the point of nearly sending the United States of America into default.
"Progress will come in fits and starts," the president cautioned in his victory speech. "The recognition that we have common hopes and dreams won't end all the gridlock ... or substitute for the painstaking work of building consensus. But that common bond is where we must begin."
The president likely will be dealing again with a Republican-run House of Representatives, whose leader, Speaker John Boehner, declared on election night that his party has orders from voters, too: no higher taxes.
Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell welcomed Obama with both arms folded. "The voters have not endorsed the failures or excesses of the president's first term," McConnell said. "They have simply given him more time to finish the job they asked him to do together" with a balanced Congress.
Obama will still have his firewall in the Senate, with Democrats hanging onto their narrow majority. But they don't have enough to keep Republicans from bottling up any major legislation with delaying tactics.
Moreover, Obama has won the electoral vote comfortably but the popular vote showed the nation he leads split right in half. So the burden falls on the president to find compromise, not just demand it from the other side.
Obama is acutely aware that time for progress is limited in any second term, as he increasingly becomes a lame duck. "The first 14 months are productive, the last 14 months are productive, and you sag in the middle," said mayor Rahm Emanuel of Chicago, Obama's first White House chief of staff.
Given that dynamic, Democrats said Obama must move quickly to establish command of the political process. "If you don't put anything on the board, you die faster," said Patrick Griffin, associate director of the Center for Congressional and Presidential Studies at American University. "If you have no credibility, if you can't establish some sort of victory here, you will be marginalised by your own party and the other side very quickly."