ON TUESDAY at 11:12 p.m. eastern time, the American president, Barack Hussein Obama, performed the political equivalent of levitation.
Despite an intransigent Congress bent on dismantling his presidency; the potentially disruptive effects of the Citizens United decision by the Supreme Court; a doggedly sluggish economy; and the most daunting first-term domestic environment of any American president since FDR, the 44th president of the United States won re-election and the opportunity, over the next four years, to make his presidency more consequential than it already was.
“Tonight, more than 200 years after a former colony won the right to determine its own destiny, the task of perfecting our union moves forward,” the president said in his rousing victory speech at McCormick Place in Chicago.
“It moves forward because of you. It moves forward because you reaffirmed the spirit that has triumphed over war and depression, the spirit that has lifted this country from the depths of despair to the great heights of hope, the belief that while each of us will pursue our own individual dreams, we are an American family and we rise or fall together as one nation and as one people.”
The voting results made that obvious: Obama won re-election with at least 53 percent of the popular vote, including 93 percent of African American voters, 71 percent of Latinos, 67 percent of single women, and 60 percent of voters under 30.
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Obama’s firewall of Midwestern voters in Wisconsin, Iowa and crucial Ohio turned out solidly for the president, and its cohort of white male voters — blue-collar, lunch-bucket voters, some of whom work in the automobile industry Obama rescued — helped put Obama over the top.
In fact, it was Ohio that secured the electoral-vote victory for Obama last night, placing him above the threshold of 270 electoral votes he needed to win.
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The Republican blame-game postmortem is well underway, but Lawrence Bobo, writing in The Root, has already made sense of things — both what just happened and what happens next:
“Bush and Republicans were out of power with certainty in 2008. Republicans committed themselves to making Obama a one-term president, partly on the premise that his success was merely a reaction against Bush's particular failures, not a repudiation of the Republican agenda or, at a deeper level, of the ideas and people who would drive the direction of American politics. ...”
“This election, therefore, is an inflection point. It is the consolidation, first and foremost, of a multiracial progressive Obama coalition that is now the dominant electoral force in American national politics. Republicans will never again, so long as their policy agenda remains as it is, command a winning national coalition. Too many fundamental social trends run against it. A mix of more progressive white voters — especially white women, African Americans, Latinos, Asians and other people of color — now sets the national agenda.”
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IN SOME ways, the election itself was the chronicle of a death foretold. A Republican insider told Jim VandeHei and Mike Allen of Politico last week, that “If Romney loses, it will be because he ran a 1992-style campaign that was aimed squarely at suburban white voters, while the president ran a campaign understanding the realities of a diverse and far more polarized electorate.”
flirtations with birther dogwhistle politics; and his ardent defense of a budget plan that defied the principles of mathematics all contributed to Romney’s defeat.
But these were all compounded by Team Romney’s inability or unwillingness to grasp the power of a foundational commandment of American presidential politics: Thou shalt define thyself, lest thy opponent do it in thy stead.
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PRESIDENT OBAMA won last night in no small part because of his attention to the ascendant cohorts of American politics — white progressives, women, African Americans, Latinos, Asians, the LGBT community — and his grasp of the economic concerns of the blue-collar white male voters that historically belonged to the Republicans. These are the components of the national future, a future that President Obama thoroughly embraces, and one that Team Romney and the Republicans have generally abandoned.
Writing in The Daily Beast, Andrew Sullivan distilled last night’s events and their impact on what, in practical terms, is a new United States today:
“America crossed the Rubicon of every citizen's access to healthcare, and re-elected a black president in a truly tough economic climate. The shift toward gay equality is now irreversible. The end of prohibition of marijuana is in sight. Women, in particular, moved this nation forward — pragmatically, provisionally, sensibly. They did so alongside the young whose dedication to voting was actually greater this time than in 2008, the Latino voters who have made the current GOP irrelevant, and African-Americans, who turned up in vast numbers, as in 2008, to put a period at the end of an important sentence.
“That sentence will never now be unwritten. By anyone.”
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One slight exception to Sullivan’s observation: Now more than ever before, the prospects for America are more properly expressed in an open-ended sentence, one that doesn’t end with the finality of a period, but continues with the possibility of an ellipsis.
Last night, for an administration and a nation, that sentence paused to include the words that matter more than anything else:
“To be continued ...”
Image credits: Obama top: The White House Web site. Obama lower: Chris Carlson/Associated Press. Obama bottom: Via The Huffington Post.