Obama’s return to the White House for a second term brings to fore a number of important considerations – what one can accurately refer to as the Obama factors.
The first, of course, is the changing demographics. Take the Latin vote for example: in the early 1990s, Hispanics were a mere 2% of voters. This election, they clocked in at 10%. It’s a figure that will likely rise by a percentage point or more with every presidential election cycle. And in this election, Latinos supported Obama by 44 points, 71% to 27%, compared to a “mere” 67% to 31% in 2008. Added to this was the fact that African Americans turned out in even greater numbers this time round and Obama captured 93% of those votes which (contrary to pre-election polls that saw him losing significant ground among African Americans), in sheer numbers was greater than the black votes he received in 2008, even though the 2008 percentage for Obama was 95. Smaller groups such as Caribbeans and Indians also voted in greater numbers and mostly for Obama.
Secondly, more and more Americans are embracing the message inherent in Obama’s re-election – that an individual who is more akin to the 99% can make it to White House, if that individual possesses the single defining trait that Obama epitomizes – empathy. For while it is true that one will always need shiploads of money, a potent grassroots network, an extensive/intensive get-out-the-vote plan and the capacity to effectively harness social media and relevant technology, among other variables, to wage a campaign, it is also now true that Obama has placed front and center, the qualities that define the candidate.
The issue of empathy cannot be over emphasized. Until the advent of Obama, American politics had all but eschewed empathy to the extent that exercising the ballot had become a matter of routine and voters had become emotionally distanced from the politicians with support mostly garnered because of party loyalty rather passion about the individuals and their positions.
Obama, on the other hand brought passion into his politics and that passion became and remained contagious. That passion led him to declare the audacity of hope that Washington business as usual must be changed. And even though Obama could not make much of a dent it was not for want of trying and it is quite clear that the electorate recognized this reality. Thus the empathy that was established between Obama and the American electorate continued to fare well in spite of him not being able to make the changes that his supporters desired and that he promised in 2008. And that empathy saturated his campaign in a way that showed up the dispassionate disconnect between Romney and the electorate. So that even if they did not fully embraced all of Obama’s position or gave him high marks for his term, most of the electorate saw themselves in Obama and this emotive connection was manifested at the polls.
African Americans and Latinos aside, the demographics of those who voted for the president are revealing: exit polling indicated that people who want a candidate who “cares about people like me” voted overwhelmingly for Obama — more than 80 percent. Further, 68 percent of those who say that Obama’s handling of Hurricane Sandy was important to them, voted for the president. And 75 percent of those who view health care as the most important issue facing the country voted for him. His support also came from the majority of people under age 40, especially single women and mothers; 60 percent of those with an annual income of $50,000 or less; 71 percent of those who believe that the U.S. economy favors the wealthy; and the majority of those whose biggest problems are the housing market (63 percent) or unemployment (54 percent).
According to pre-election survey carried out by the Benson Strategy Group, for average working-class and middle-class Americans who have believed for nearly a decade that the economic system in America had fallen out of balance for people like them, the president’s personal story and policies engendered trust because they connected with voters’ lives, aspirations, and beliefs about what it would take to create the future they wanted. That trust was the central economic test in this election. In fact, independent voters, by 54 to 40, said it was more important for a president to have “the willingness to fight for middle-class families” rather than a “technical understanding of the economy.” In effect, the results clearly revealed that Obama’s support was about a leader who understands and is sensitive to the feelings of the disadvantaged, the vulnerable, those struggling grasp the American Dream. Those values were so eloquently summed up by the President himself in his election night speech, “We believe in a generous America, in a compassionate America, in a tolerant America, open to the dreams of an immigrant’s daughter who studies in our schools and pledges to our flag.” As a matter of fact, Romney’s explanation that his defeat was the result of Obama strategy of giving “gifts” to blacks, Hispanics and young voters, clearly emphasizes the disconnect between the Republican Party and the majority of voters. These “gifts” cited by Romney included passage of Obama’s signature healthcare law, support for contraceptive coverage in medical insurance, and a policy change relaxing U.S. deportation rules so that many young illegal immigrants who came to the United States as children can stay in the country and work.
Empathy aside, the results of elections 2012 clearly indicates that, in the not too distant future, the emerging majority (non-white America) can help send to White House, a female, a Hispanic, an Indian et al. And perhaps in due course the legislatures of the USA would be more representative of America’s rainbow. Now, of course, minorities and immigrants will have recognized that rather than sitting down at home, they need to get up and get – become registered and ensure that their ballots count. After all, it is the record turnout of minorities that helped to make the difference for Obama. And perhaps, if this trend continues, politics as usual would, sooner than later, become a thing of the past and not only will politicians truly reflect the desires of their supporters but communities will be truly and positively served and fraud, nepotism and other typical characteristics of the political status quo would gradually be reduced, if not eliminated.
Perhaps then too, campaigns will not manifest those traits that characterized Romney’s campaign, so concisely described by Daily News columnist Michael Cohen: “blatantly lying about his opponent’s record, adopting policy positions of convenience that ran counter to his past positions, regularly misleading Americans about his own plans or stirring racial acrimony” and “Romney’s extraordinary and unprecedented refusal to engage in traditional campaign transparency. He never released his tax returns. He refused to reveal the names of people who raised money on behalf of his campaign. He was even less forthright about his plans of he were to be elected. The cornerstone of his economic plan was a proposal for a 20% across-the-board tax cut, which he claimed would not explode the deficit and would be paid for by closing loopholes and capping deductions. Never once did he detail what those loopholes or deductions might be.”
Lest we forget, too, there is also a message presented by America’s youth. The few incidents of racist rhetoric aside, young people are clearly showing that they will not be influenced by the postures and positions of older generations, by social stratifications or by political rhetoric and that they will more and more throw their support behind candidates that connect with them via their various interests rather than via class, status or ethnic identity. This message instills hope that the America of the future will be more accommodating of all its citizens, provide more equitable treatment for all and sooner or later, and blur the lines of social stratifications and ethnic divides.
Inherent also in Obama’s reelection is the fact that while the average American understands that Washington is still an old boy’s club and that even the most determined individual can make hardly a dent in the structure, the average American also feels that there will come a point in time when that old boys club will begin to come apart at the seams. And perhaps it is America’s idealistic hope that, not having to face the electorate again, Obama will chance his hand at testing the strength of those seams. As so many have already pointed out Obama does indeed have the opportunity to push through his agenda, not only because he has another mandate to do so but also because Republicans, now more cognizant of the demographic realities, will be more willing to compromise and meet the President somewhere along the line rather that remain anchored at one extreme.
In summary, on elections day 2012, empathy won decisively. This was an historic night for equality for lesbian, gay, bi-sexual and transgender Americans, and, indeed for all Americans who champion equal rights and greater opportunities for all. A younger America, more diverse in terms of race, ethnicity, national origin, religion, gender, and sexual orientation than ever before, spoke decisively. Now it’s up to President Barack Obama to set about answering the call to remind Americans that empathy and tolerance have historically been the foundations of the American ethos and that the greatest aspiration of this nation is the reach for equal rights – a mission towards which so many dedicated their lives, including the incomparable Martin Luther King.