IN the end it was all down to the American Dream. Barack Obama and Mitt Romney, like generations of politicians before them, embraced it -- and once again Obama rode to victory on the back of it. Yet his re-election heralds the end of that American Dream. The land that was forever young is finally growing up.
This nebulous Dream is not uniquely American, of course, but in America it has been uniquely naive. At its simplest, its evolution might go something like this: a longing to escape life's imperfections, marry the guy or gal next door, move to suburbia, a front garden, a white picket fence, kids to move up the ladder. Then it all began to change.
The Sixties came. The Dream was in turmoil. There was Camelot, of course, but there was also talk of equal rights. Soon there were new neighbours and not everyone was white anymore. Not everyone was even married anymore.
Some politicians said the Dream was dying; others that it was being reborn. No one was quite sure how it happened so quickly or so completely, but one day a majority chose a new president and this president was black. His father had abandoned him. He had been raised by a single mother. And the amazing thing was that so many were so euphoric. They were calling this the American Dream. Surely, they would never make the mistake twice!
And of course in hard political terms it was not meant to happen. The rule was that if unemployment was over 7pc, a president would not be re-elected. But Americans were growing up. Those who had so dramatically changed the face of power from white to black four years ago were ready now for lesser things, to compromise, to be pragmatic, to settle for some promises fulfilled, realising there was a limit to what one man (and next time perhaps a woman) could achieve in four years in the face of a divided Congress, powerful lobbyists and vested interests.
They grumbled less when Obama's healthcare reform took a long time and was so limited, because they realised that this had been an 80-year battle. Democrats haven't been good at this. Keeping them in line and getting them to back the party's candidate has always been a big ask.
Republicans have been smarter, more disciplined, more moneyed. For them it's always been win at all costs; for Democrats it's win if you can tame the bickering liberal wings. There's a wonderful saying I heard during my years in the US -- "I'm not a member of any organised political party, I'm a Democrat."
But on Tuesday, they were disciplined. And even more crucially, enough independents looked beyond Romney's rhetoric about the American Dream and realised that what they saw on TV was not necessarily what they would get in the White House.
The slogan "Yes We Can" tapped right into the heart of the American Dream but four years later it was hard to imagine a campaign crafted around such a slogan. Better the quieter, less frenetic "Forward". It was all part of Americans growing up, realising that there could be no instant solutions in four years to the worst economic crisis since the Depression. Enough of them were ready to settle for slower, steadier progress.
They had been extricated from wars that had been costing them billions each week, while 46 million of their own were on food stamps and people were dying prematurely at the rate of 76 a day because they lacked health insurance.
Lots of hard cash helped get the message out too -- the combined price tag for the Obama-Romney race came in at $6bn (€4.7bn). But little wonder in the end how it turned out. Infatuation with the old American Dream was over. America did not need that dream any longer. They finally shredded it on Tuesday. The reality is so much better.