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Cometh the hour, but what of the man?

Four years ago, Barack Obama swept into the presidency of the USA on a tide of hope and renewal. But he inherited two wars and an economic crisis, and this week he sought re-election from an electorate in a wholly different mood.

The US economy is recovering, but it has not recovered fast enough to regain the faith of the millions hit in the pocket.

Nevertheless, he has won handsomely. In a large part because of brilliant organisation in the "swing states". He did not win on policy, except in as much as his opponent lacked plausible policies of his own.

It is clear that only a minority of those who voted Democrat believed in the strengh of the recovery. At the end of this year, the United States will encounter the "fiscal cliff" which could make the country's public finances unmanageable. Mr Obama will have to compromise and persuade the Republicans in Congress to co-operate.

Their obstructionism may have harmed Mr Romney more than Mr Obama. In this campaign, although himself a moderate, he was unable to shake off his previous concessions to the right.

Perhaps we saw "the real Romney" in the dignity and grace with which he met his defeat. Did we see "the real Obama"? He made a dismal showing in the first TV debate. The dashing young man of 2008 appeared, in 2012, listless and uninterested.

But we saw a different man when Sandy struck the east coast. He took control at once. The contrast with Hurricane Katrina, so mishandled by George W Bush, was unavoidable. People like to feel that someone is in charge. This time, Mr Obama was unquestionably in charge.

In his second term, he will have to show at all times that he remains in charge.

The US is not the only superpower. But it is the major superpower, and Obama is still the most powerful man in the world.

A solution to the planet's economic ills cannot be found without leadership. Only the US can supply that.

Mr Obama deserved re-election. Now it is up to him to prove that he deserved it. The world waits for him to show his true abilities.

Irish Independent