The beginning and end are best:
The case for Barack Obama, in broad strokes:
He has within him the possibility to change the direction and tone of American foreign policy, which need changing; his rise will serve as a practical rebuke to the past five years, which need rebuking; his victory would provide a fresh start in a nation in which a fresh start would come as a national relief. He climbed steep stairs, born off the continent with no father to guide, a dreamy, abandoning mother, mixed race, no connections. He rose with guts and gifts. He is steady, calm, and, in terms of the execution of his political ascent, still the primary and almost only area in which his executive abilities can be discerned, he shows good judgment in terms of whom to hire and consult, what steps to take and moves to make. We witnessed from him this year something unique in American politics: He took down a political machine without raising his voice.
A great moment: When the press was hitting hard on the pregnancy of Sarah Palin's 17-year-old daughter, he did not respond with a politically shrewd "I have no comment," or "We shouldn't judge." Instead he said, "My mother had me when she was 18," which shamed the press and others into silence. He showed grace when he didn't have to.
There is something else. On Feb. 5, Super Tuesday, Mr. Obama won the Alabama primary with 56% to Hillary Clinton's 42%. That evening, a friend watched the victory speech on TV in his suburban den. His 10-year-old daughter walked in, saw on the screen "Obama Wins" and "Alabama." She said, "Daddy, we saw a documentary on Martin Luther King Day in school." She said, "That's where they used the hoses." Suddenly my friend saw it new. Birmingham, 1963, and the water hoses used against the civil rights demonstrators. And now look, the black man thanking Alabama for his victory.
This means nothing? This means a great deal.
And there is this. The past few months as the campaign unfolded, I listened for Mr. Obama to speak thoughtfully about the life issues, including abortion. Our last Democratic president knew what that issue was, and knew by nature how to speak of it. Bill Clinton famously said, over and over, that abortion should be "safe, legal and rare." The "rare" mattered. It set a tone, as presidents do, and made an important concession: You only want a medical practice to be rare when it isn't good. For Mr. Obama, whose mind tends, as intellectuals' minds do, toward the abstract, it all seems so . . . abstract. And cold. And rather suggestive of radical departures. "That's above my pay grade." Friend, that is your pay grade, that's where the presidency lives, in issues like that.
But let's be frank. Something new is happening in America. It is the imminent arrival of a new liberal moment. History happens, it makes its turns, you hold on for dear life. Life moves.
A fitting end for a harem-scarem, rock-'em-sock-'em shakeup of a year -- one of tumbling inevitabilities, torn coalitions, striking new personalities.
Eras end, and begin. "God is in charge of history." And so my beautiful election ends.
Over at Beliefnet, Rod Dreher highlights two other graphs from this column.