Why, despite a struggling economy, shuddering deficits, a paralyzed Congress and a deeply cleaved nation, did Barack Obama win a second term as President of the United States? Because he represents the America that is, the America that is becoming, not the fading America of the Republican Party.
A country that is increasingly brown rather than white, a country where women and the young are finally finding their full political voice, a frightened country that looks to government to protect them from the worst, trusted Mr. Obama and did not trust Mitt Romney.
We should not overstate that victory. This divided nation has rarely been so divided: white versus brown, rural versus urban, North versus South – each, it seems, against the other.
But someone won, without the help of the Supreme Court. And that someone was a black former community organizer and law professor from Chicago who was seeking re-election in troubled times. And isn’t that something?
Tuesday was a dark night for the Republican Party. Despite Mr. Romney’s own moderate inclinations, the former Massachusetts governor was clearly too in thrall to the angry, vengeful Republican base.
The Grand Old Party, despite posting a better result than did John McCain in 2008, not only lost the presidency again, it failed to capture the Senate, thanks to a few radical, Tea Party-endorsed candidates who lost seats that the GOP had fully expected to win mere weeks ago.
“If the Republican Party cannot win in this environment,” the conservative columnist George Will declared in September, “ it has to get out of politics and find another business.” Time to go looking for a new line of work?
Yet America gave the Democratic candidate only a qualified endorsement: a wafer-thin win in the popular vote, though a more substantial win in the electoral college. At least two states – Indiana and North Carolina – that Mr. Obama won in 2008 Mr. Romney took from him in 2012.
Nonetheless, the thin veneer of moderates in key states who decide elections went with what they knew. They might not have liked the President’s health-care reforms, they certainly didn’t like the years of unemployment above 8 per cent, and they would dearly love to see the value of their house to start rising again.
But that narrow band of the uncommitted grudgingly accepted that much of the bad economic news was out of the President’s hands. They held a Republican-controlled House of Representatives equally responsible for the gridlock in Washington. They did not favour cutting taxes as a recipe for reducing trillion-dollar deficits.
So enough white men joined with women of all hues, with Latinos and African Americans and Asians, with millennials and auto-industry workers – who accept that Washington saved their jobs when it saved their industry – and all the others who cast a Democratic ballot to give Mr. Obama a clear, if modest, victory.
To be more precise: Edison Research reported early Wednesday that young voters (ages 18-29) cast 19 per cent of the ballots in this election, one percentage point more than in 2008, and voted Democrat over Republican 60 per cent to 36 per cent.
It projected that there was a 52 per cent spread between the Democrats and the Republicans among Latinos. Better than 90 per cent of the African American vote was pro-Obama. Women voted substantially in favour of Democrats.
So much for the Republicans’ much vaunted enthusiasm gap between their supporters and the President’s.
This is fact: Unless the Republican Party attracts more women, more of the young and more Hispanics – which means unless they change their ways and their world view – their electoral future is bleak. This was true four years ago. It is even more true today.
Nonetheless, Mr. Obama faces a difficult four years. He must find a compromise with the lame-duck Congress to avoid the fiscal cliff at the end of December that would impose tax and spending cuts to fight the deficit. In this environment such moves could drag the economy into another recession.
The President must work with a House filled with growling Republicans, licking their wounds, to forge a pact aimed at bringing down the deficit. It has been years since America passed a budget. How does a country carry on in such circumstances?
But before we drive you to an early-in-the-day drink, let’s close by affirming what America achieved last night. It re-elected its first African-American president, a powerful balm for ancient but still-fresh racial wounds.
For Americans, public health care reform is now guaranteed. Fundamental immigration reform will be a second-term priority.
Those who support a woman’s right to choose, some limitation on the right to bear arms and other core liberal values can be reassured that a Democrat will nominate Supreme Court judges for the next four years.
“Democracy in a nation of more than 300 million can be noisy and messy and complicated,” the now-and-future President told exultant supporters Wednesday morning in a speech that echoed some of the hope-and-change passion of four years before.
“We have our own opinions. Each of us has deeply held beliefs,” Mr. Obama conceded. But “these arguments that we have are a mark of our liberty.” Indeed they are.
For Canadians, the co-operative and even collaborative relationship between Mr. Obama and Prime Minister Stephen Harper will remain intact, even as Canada pushes for a reversal of Mr. Obama’s decision to prohibit the Keystone XL pipeline that would bring oil south from the oil sands.
For the world, a multilateralist president who prefers to co-operate rather than confront will seek to make the world a less incendiary place.
Beyond that, Maryland and Maine voted to legalize same-sex marriage. Finally the people, not the courts or the legislatures, have affirmed this most vital of gay rights And Colorado and Washington State voted to legalize marijuana.
Not a bad day for those who believe in the possibility of a tolerant, reconciling, forward-thinking America, no matter how bad the polarization may seem. Not a bad day at all.