We will see if his aspirations are more successful in the next 10 months. But the contrast between the president's State of the Union speech last night and the endless round of Republican debates was remarkable. It was Obama at his best — earnest, high-minded and hopeful (despite three years of evidence suggesting the contrary) for a union of interests.

The president also was political, outlining the themes of what will be his campaign later this year, drawing lines of ideological and programmatic interests, suggesting some specific areas of reform — pointed, not transformational, as circumstances required. He'll need a better Cabinet to carry out his proposals, especially Messrs. Geithner and Holder, if his reforms are to materialize.

But his oratorical skills, phlegmatic for years, were back in evidence and effective. His wonderful, light-up-the-room smile still works, even following a lame joke. It was the Obama of the 2004 Democratic Convention, and the 2008 campaign, calling for an end to red and blue states, and beseeching for a "united" states. Again.

This president is a consistent, articulate and hopeful politician, if a slow learner. After three-quarters of his term, he addressed the hostile Congress that has disrespected him and blocked his efforts resignedly, with an appeal to "union.” Pleading for unity to meet our problems, he used the flag as metaphor, red and white stripes sewn together, capable of flying to great heights.

The contrasts were stark, after a season of rankling, negative complaints by the debaters and their ugly PAC-men carrying the candidates' fractious messages. What a year we have to look forward to. A complaining dark view of the state of our union by uninspiring challengers, and a coaxing, hopeful plea for a second chance by a man of charm who hopes for change.

Ronald Goldfarb is a Washington- and Miami-based attorney, author and literary agent.