Elections

Coming Home: Demography + Vision = the Re-election of Barack Obama

I knew when I left for Europe that in all likelihood President Obama would be re-elected, though I was anxious. The stakes were high. If he won, as expected, my return from my few weeks visit would feel like I was truly returning home. If he lost, I would feel like I was venturing to an alien country, one that I had hoped had been left behind, a country trying to revert to a state that didn’t include me, and many others, as full citizens.

A key of the Obama election, presidency and re-election has been inclusion, and the Republicans were pushing back, clearly revealed in their voter ID, voter suppression campaign. The changing demography helps to explain the President’s victory, but his great gift to the country has been to show the country how these changes are our greatest strength. The changing demography plus Obama’s vision go a long way in explaining the election results and the forthcoming changes in the United States.

He did it again in his victory speech as the nation’s storyteller-in-chief. It was a beautiful conclusion to a less than beautiful election. The ugliness of the opposition to Obama left a bad taste in our collective mouths for months, in fact, for years, thanks to the Tea Party, Fox, Rush and company. Obama in his victory speech reminded the American public and the rest of the world to keep our eyes on the prize. I watched on CNN in my hotel room in Warsaw. Today, I watched again with my friends at the Theodore Young Community Center. We decided to share the moment together. We were inspired.

“Our man,” as my dear friend Beverly McCoy speaks of the president, first got our attention, by marking the accomplishment of a free election and celebrating all who took part, linking fundamental political facts with the theme of his campaign, but including those who campaigned against him:

“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.  (Applause.)

I want to thank every American who participated in this election.  (Applause.)  Whether you voted for the very first time or waited in line for a very long time — (applause) — by the way, we have to fix that.  (Applause.)  Whether you pounded the pavement or picked up the phone — (applause) — whether you held an Obama sign or a Romney sign, you made your voice heard, and you made a difference.  (Applause.)”

He highlighted common goals of all Americans:

“(D)espite all our differences, most of us share certain hopes for America’s future.  We want our kids to grow up in a country where they have access to the best schools and the best teachers — (applause) — a country that lives up to its legacy as the global leader in technology and discovery and innovation, with all the good jobs and new businesses that follow.

We want our children to live in an America that isn’t burdened by debt; that isn’t weakened by inequality; that isn’t threatened by the destructive power of a warming planet.  (Applause.)”

He presented his specific policy priorities in his speech, as they are part of American aspiration: education, economic and technological development, the deficit and growing inequality, and climate change. The way he formulated these problems in this passage, I imagine, is difficult to oppose, though it is noteworthy that he was outlining a political center that he was attempting to move to the left.

I take this to be his specific political orientation, which explains why he spent so much of his time during his first term assuming the goodwill of Republicans when many of his supporters wished he would aggressively opposed them. And it also explains the nature of his great achievements including Obamacare, major advances in equal rights for gays, African Americans, women and immigrants, and significant assistance to the less advantaged as we have been enduring the Great Recession. He seeks a center framed by progressive principles.

And on election night, he emphasized citizenship and its obligations, linking his program with the aspirations and actions of his fellow Americans.

“The role of citizen in our democracy does not end with your vote.  America has never been about what can be done for us.  It’s about what can be done by us, together, through the hard and frustrating but necessary work of self-government.  (Applause.)  That’s the principle we were founded on.

I am hopeful tonight because I have seen this spirit at work in America.

What makes America exceptional are the bonds that hold together the most diverse nation on Earth — the belief that our destiny is shared; that this country only works when we accept certain obligations to one another, and to future generations; that the freedom which so many Americans have fought for and died for comes with responsibilities as well as rights, and among those are love and charity and duty and patriotism.  That’s what makes America great.  (Applause.)”

He went on to described the heroic acts of ordinary citizens: family business owners who took cuts in pay to avoid laying off their neighbors, workers cutting back in their hours so that their fellow workers wouldn’t be laid off, valiant soldiers who re-enlist and who killed Osama bin Laden, and political leaders acting beyond partisan concern to most effectively respond to Hurricane Sandy (an unsubtle shot out for Governor Chris Christie of New Jersey).

He presented his vision of the American Dream with inclusion emphasized:

“I believe we can keep the promise of our founding — the idea that if you’re willing to work hard, it doesn’t matter who you are, or where you come from, or what you look like, or where you love — it doesn’t matter whether you’re black or white, or Hispanic or Asian, or Native American, or young or old, or rich or poor, abled, disabled, gay or straight — you can make it here in America if you’re willing to try.  (Applause.)”

I think it is especially noteworthy that gay or straight and the disabled are on his list.

Obama’s presented in his victory speech, as he campaigned in this election, an expanding vision of equal citizenship with its rights and responsibilities for all. He governed utilizing this vision, and all his major speeches have included this vision from his address to the Democratic Convention in 2004, empowering his race speech, including his victory speech last week. It is part of an inspiring whole.

Demography + vision = the re-election of Barack Obama. It’s good to be home.