Aging white guys at some important newspapers have hit upon a bizarre interpretation of the election returns: nothing much changed. Peter Baker of The New York Times: “When all the shouting is done, the American people have more or less ratified the status quo.” Say what? Baker seems like a smart enough reporter but this analysis is so stupid, he must be in post-partum shock.
George Will, always cynical and condescending, has ratified Peter Baker. In a Washington Post column headlined “The Status Quo Prevails,” Will observed: “A nation vocally disgusted with the status quo has reinforced it by ratifying existing control of the executive branch and both halves of the legislative branch.”
Lest anyone miss the point, the editors of the Post instructed their readers: “A status quo election result should spur both parties to compromise.” Compromise—that’s the ticket. By which they mean our re-elected president should punish the very people who re-elected him. The Post’s editorial bizarrely explained its reasoning. The 2012 presidential election was nearly a tie! “Just about half of voters—50.4 percent —supported President Obama. Just about half didn’t.”
Well, no, not exactly. Obama won in a landslide in the only contest that counts—the competition for the 270 electors needed to win the presidency. Obama has won 303 electoral votes so far and will get beyond 330 if his lead in Florida is sustained by the final count. The Electoral College is of course heavily biased to favor smaller states with far less population, so the president actually triumphed despite the odds against him.
Why are white guys so reluctant to give him credit? Because the 2012 election was a profound watershed in the life of the nation. Whatever else President Obama accomplishes or fails to accomplish in his second term, his re-election is in some ways even more significant than his initial triumph in 2008. He will be forever remembered as the president who opened America to a different future—more promising and fulfilling, more just and democratic than anything achieved in the American past.
It may be easier to see this if you ask: Who lost? Forget Romney and the Republicans. The real loser was the bitter legacy of “white supremacy.” That poisonous prejudice has endured in political reality and the national culture for two centuries. It still does, though it is now cultivated most zealously only by white Southerners who took over the party of Abraham Lincoln (who surely weeps for his Grand Old Party).
In 2012, white supremacy not only lost the election. It was a crucial factor in explaining how Obama won. Good for Obama and really good for the American people. Whose “status quo” are these pundits clinging to forlornly? Maybe their own. They have typically belittled the struggles by excluded minorities as “identity politics.” Well, yes, these people intend to be identified as citizens, fully endowed with the rights any other American enjoy. This election confirmed their goal.
The re-election of a black president is the most precious fact of 2012, perhaps even more significant than his original election in 2008. If Obama had lost, a wise history professor pointed out to me, it would have taken many years, probably many decades, before either major party would ever again dare to nominate a person of color for president. Black Americans understood this, probably better than most of us white folks. So did Latinos, Asians and a whole bunch of other “minority” voters. African-Americans might have had quarrels or disappointments with Obama, but they understood their historic stakes in winning a second term for him.