Was it a new Barack Obama who flew home from Tucson yesterday, or the old one he had lost sight of?
In 33 minutes, he had reminded Americans of what used to be the essence of his appeal: his conviction that politics - and leadership - should be about uniting, not dividing.
Moments of great tragedy become moments of opportunity for every President. But the days since the shootings in Tucson last weekend arguably demanded Obama's touch especially. While America was stunned by the rampage that left six dead and 13 wounded, including the Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, it was also plunged into a new spiral of ideological eye-gouging. Did the right cause this? Did Sarah Palin?
Before he became President, Obama proclaimed there was no red America or blue America, but only a United States of America. And so, addressing a crowd of 14,000 in a University of Arizona basketball arena, he said exactly what you would hope.
Rise above this, he said. Use it to make ourselves and our country better. "If this tragedy prompts reflection and debate, as it should, let's make sure it's worthy of those we have lost," Obama said.
"Let's make sure it's not on the usual plane of politics and point-scoring and pettiness that drifts away with the next news cycle."
He was at his most effective evoking the interrupted life of 9-year-old Christina Green, whose burial took place yesterday afternoon.
The funeral of John Roll, the most senior federal judge in Arizona until he too was killed by the fusillade last Sunday, was due to be held overnight.
The little girl, Obama noted, had shown an early interest in democracy and politics, joining her school student council and asking to go along to Sunday's event to see a Congressperson in the flesh. "I want to live up to her expectations," the President told the crowd and the national TV audience. "I want our democracy to be as good as Christina imagined it. I want America to be as good as she imagined it."
The country may not heed him, of course. Palin had earlier in the day demonstrated just how powerful the pull into point-scoring can be with a video cameo that saw her lashing out at those who had sought to connect her sometimes incendiary rhetoric to the shooting. They were guilty of "blood libel", she said.
The contrast between Palin and Obama was jarring.
"Rather than pointing fingers or assigning blame, let us use this occasion to expand our moral imaginations," the President said, "to listen to each other more carefully, to sharpen our instincts for empathy, and remind ourselves of all the ways our hopes and dreams are bound together."
Palin will have delighted her core constituents. But the higher ground was surely Obama's.
"I wouldn't underestimate how this is going to affect the perception of the President," noted Charles Krauthammer, the normally hostile columnist on the Washington Post.
Steve Lombardo, who does polling for the Republicans, told Politico: "It was supposed to be simply a chance to make a good speech, but it may be more than that. It may be a time when we look back and say that he remade himself tonight into the President we thought he could be."
The road back for Tucson may be longer. As residents begin to bury those killed, they are also learning more about the suspect, 22-year-old Jared Loughner, and behaviour that spoke so loudly of a troubled soul. New police documents revealed a previous outburst about attaching bombs to babies.
Also beginning to come into view was the abruptness of his apparent plunge into the psychological wilderness. A former girlfriend, Kelsey Hawkes, told CBS television that he showed no signs of violence.
"Back then he was a completely different person. Very caring, very sweet, gentle, kind, you know, a little bit quiet. But altogether a pretty great guy," she said.
In Washington, meanwhile, Obama the orator has returned. Did he scold as is his wont? A bit. Were there moments of overreach in his address? Perhaps.
He closed with an image of the little girl skipping through "rain puddles in heaven". But better this week to be greetings-card cloying than blood-libel provocative.