Five years ago, they said a freshman senator couldn’t win the primaries. They said nobody could beat the Clintons. They said an African-American couldn’t win the White House.
When Barack Obama proved them wrong in 2008, they said he couldn’t really govern. They said it was political suicide for him to stake his presidency on health care reform. He couldn’t get his approval numbers anywhere close to 50 percent. Above all, they said no president could get re-elected with unemployment near 8 per cent.
They were so wrong.
President Obama earned his place in the electoral history books for a second time on Tuesday night. He earned the right to a presidential legacy that goes far beyond his status as the nation’s first black commander-in-chief. From health care reform to Wall Street reform; from his response to the financial meltdown to decimating Al Qaeda and killing bin Laden; the president has a record that no successor can dismantle in January.
He also has the right to say: I told you so.
Despite all the conventional wisdom of the so-called experts; despite all the ultra-confidence of the conservative movement; despite all the millions of dollars from the super-wealthy backers of the super PACs; President Obama defied the odds.
Perhaps he can now get some respect as a president whose ambitious legislative record was actually something he could run on, not run away from.
How did he do it, when all the hope and change was supposedly gone?
The simple answer is compassion.
Obama lost to Romney on three of four personal measures—sharing values, strong leadership and having a vision for the future. But he won overwhelmingly among people who voted for a candidate who cares about them.
He won big among the majority of voters who care about caring: women.
Women handed President Obama big margins of victory in battleground states, and they turned out in greater numbers than their male counterparts.
No matter what embittered conservatives may say, the president won a clear mandate for his agenda.
In a country that supposedly leans conservative, a clear majority—59 per cent—believe that abortion should be legal in all or most cases. Perhaps that’s why so many unmarried women favored Democrats over Republicans across the country.
In a country that supposedly leans conservative, a clear majority—60 per cent—support raising taxes on all income earners, or those earning more than $250,000 a year.
In a country that supposedly leans conservative, a clear majority—65 per cent—believe that most illegal immigrants working in this country should be offered a chance to apply for legal status.
Four years ago, when President Obama won a much bigger margin of victory, Republican leaders met on inauguration night to deny the new president any cooperation, any mandate and any second term.
They failed to achieve Mitch McConnell’s biggest priority.
If those same Republican leaders refuse to listen to voters now—if they dig in and try to deny women reproductive rights, obstruct immigration reform, block tax hikes of any kind—they face a far worse scenario than a President Obama in the White House.
They face a long period in the political wilderness, with a shrinking base among older, white men.
Their strategy might work fine for House Republicans. But it makes success a distant prospect in either the Senate or the White House.
As the economy continues to recover, Democrats will be able to run in 2016 on a jobs record that will look very different from today. With that, the essence of the Romney campaign will be gone. All Republicans will have is a set of fiscal and moral positions that are out of step with the nation they seek to govern.
The sooner they learn the lessons of 2012, the sooner they understand that compromise is not a dirty word, the sooner Republicans can return from the wilderness.
In the meantime, President Obama can pull the country back from the fiscal cliff on his own terms, and cement his legacy as a historic figure governing in historically challenging times.