CHICAGO (AFP) — Hope is written on the tear-stained faces of his supporters at home and his admirers around the world, and now president-elect Barack Obama must deliver on their giddy expectations.
But the Democrat and his lieutenants do not want those expectations running out of control as they brace for the inevitable setbacks of government after they take office on January 20.
"We have to remind people that we didn't get here overnight, and we're not going to get out of it overnight," senior advisor Robert Gibbs, who is in line to be White House press secretary, told AFP.
"A new president can make a big difference, but we're in a hole that's going to take a lot to get out of," he said.
After eight years of war and now economic slump under the administration of George W. Bush, the eruption of joy that greeted Obama's election as America's first black president on Tuesday night was broad and deep and heartfelt.
In his victory speech on an emotion-filled night in Chicago, Obama said there would be "setbacks and false starts" ahead.
"The road ahead will be long. Our climb will be steep. We may not get there in one year or even in one term," he said.
"But America, I have never been more hopeful than I am tonight that we will get there. I promise you, we as a people will get there."
If there was any doubt that the path ahead is strewn with rocks as well as roses, Russia put Obama on quick notice that it does not intend to give the inexperienced 47-year-old an easy ride.
Just hours after Obama's historic election victory, President Dmitry Medvedev said Russia would station short-range missile systems in its Kaliningrad enclave wedged between Poland and fellow EU member Lithuania.
That was in response to the Bush administration's plans to install a missile defense system in eastern Europe to guard against a nuclear-bent Iran's long-range weaponry -- another hefty dossier awaiting Obama in the Oval Office.
As he finalizes his key cabinet choices including treasury, state and defense, Obama is all too aware of the combustible geopolitical mix that is brewing at a time of rare international tension.
But it is on the domestic front where the new president will have to deliver first and foremost, after the US jobless rate hit a 14-year high of 6.5 percent last month with millions fearing for their livelihoods and health care.
Pressure will be greatest from Obama's own Democratic allies in Congress, who now control all of Washington's levers of power for the first time since 1994 and are not about to let their new president off the hook.
In a post-election message to supporters, Obama's defeated primary rival Hillary Clinton said that "with the great success of our House and Senate candidates, we can make our agenda a reality."
"But make no mistake -- our work is not done!" the New York senator said, ticking off ambitious goals including universal health care, energy independence and ending the war in Iraq.
Pressure groups frozen out by the Bush administration, such as trades unions, environmentalists and gay rights activists, are clamoring for a more receptive audience in the Obama White House.
The outpouring of hope has taken written form with more than 200,000 personal messages to Obama posted on the activist website Avaaz.org and at a display set up at the foot of Washington's Lincoln Memorial.
The symbolic spot is dedicated to Civil War president Abraham Lincoln, who fought to end slavery, and is the site of civil rights hero Martin Luther King's legendary "I have a dream" speech.
So the hand of history rests heavy on Obama's shoulders, and he has not shied away from the burden by repeatedly invoking Lincoln and Franklin D. Roosevelt, another president who underwent trial by economic and military fire.
But even while attempting to inject a dose of realism, the president-elect appears to relish the challenge of justifying the stratospheric hopes invested in him by so many in the United States and beyond.
"I do not underestimate the enormity of the task that lies ahead," Obama said at his first post-election news conference on Friday.
"But America is a strong and resilient country. And I know we will succeed, if we put aside partisanship and politics and work together as one nation."
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