The presidential debates were exciting. The two candidates stood before America and the world and debated hot-button issues such as war, homosexuality, stem cell research, appointments to the U.S. Supreme Court, jobs and foreign policy.

As exciting as the debates were–and as historic an event as the election we’ve just witnessed and participated in–I couldn’t be happier that the election is over.

With the election votes counted and the election decided by the early hours of the next day, I eagerly awaited the speeches from the candidates. Each made some statements that were noteworthy.

Perhaps the most statesmanlike thing John Kerry said is that “in an American election, there are no losers because whether or not our candidates are successful, the next morning, we all wake up as Americans.”

He went on to say that with the gift of being an American comes obligation: “We are required now to work together for the good of our country. Until the days ahead, we must find common cause. We must join in common effort without remorse or recrimination, without anger or rancor. America is in need of unity and longing for a larger measure of compassion.”

With these words Kerry showed he strives to maintain an open mind and realizes the American people are looking to their elected officials to set the stage. Although Kerry believes we are going in the wrong direction in many areas, he also understands the importance of working together to defeat common enemies and achieve common goals.

In his victory speech, President Bush thanked people for the hugs on the rope lines and he thanked people for their prayers and kind words. “I want to thank you for everything you did to make the calls and to put up the signs, to talk to your neighbors and to get out the vote.”

The sheer number of people who voted in this election made a statement to the world that the American people care deeply about our right to vote. Unfortunately, we do not show this same passion for local elections and sometimes the voting percentage is poor for statewide elections, too. Not having received the majority of votes in the previous presidential election, Bush seemed very grateful for a clear victory.

In looking to the next four years, President Bush quoted Phillips Brooks, an Episcopalian minister of the 1800s who said, “Do not pray for tasks equal to your powers; pray for powers equal to your tasks.” The president has always maintained that he depends on prayer as a guiding force in his life. He seemed very genuine when he thanked those who pray for him.

The tasks before us are great. They are monumental in some cases. It seems there still lingers a post-9/11 pessimism that better days are not ahead. But the president remains optimistic and stated in his victory speech that we are entering a season of hope.

Perhaps, but President Bush doesn’t have the calming reassurance in his voice and demeanor of President Reagan, whose optimism rubbed off on the American people even when there were obvious reasons to be pessimistic.

In place of such charisma, I believe the president now realizes he needs to reach across the aisle to those on the other side of the issues in an effort to get more done for our nation. As governor of Texas, this was one of his strengths. He brought Democrats and Republicans together. Somehow, he lost that gift in his first term. Perhaps the second term will be different.

This is the reason these words of his victory speech were the most important: “So today I want to speak to every person who voted for my opponent. To make this nation stronger and better, I will need your support, and I will work to earn it. I will do all I can do to deserve your trust. A new term is a new opportunity to reach out to the whole nation. We have one country, one Constitution and one future that binds us. And when we come together and work together, there is no limit to the greatness of America.”

Time will tell whether George Bush means what he says. I hope he does for the sake of my children, our nation and the world.

So whether you voted Republican or Democratic, join with me in praying for those who are the leaders of this great democracy we call America.

Michael Helms is pastor of Trinity Baptist Church in Moultrie, Ga. His column appears in The Moultrie Observer.

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