It wasn’t even close. That’s the unexpected result of the November 6 election. And President Obama and his supporters must wrap their heads around this new reality—just as their Republican rivals are going to have to adjust to it.
After a very long, very hard campaign that began the night of the 2010 “Republican wave” election, a campaign defined by unprecedented spending and take-no-prisoners debate strategies, Barack Obama was re-elected president. And he did so with an ease that allowed him to claim what even his supporters dared not imagine until a little after 11 pm on the night of his last election: a credible, national win.
“We’re not as divided as our politics suggest,” Obama told the crowd at his victory party in Chicago.
And he was on to something.
Despite a brief delay by Republican challenger Mitt Romney, and the commentators on Fox News, Obama claimed his victory on election night not the next day, as Richard Nixon did in 1960, or even later, as George Bush in 2000.
And it was a real victory.
Obama did not have to deal with the challenge of an Electoral College win combined with a popular-vote loss—as even some of his most ardent supporters feared might be the case.
By the time Romney conceded at 1 am, Obama had a 250,000 popular-vote lead, and it grew to roughly 2 million by dawn.
He was on track to win a majority of states and more than 300 Electoral Votes—at least 303 and, with the right result in Florida, 332.
Obama’s win was bigger than John Kennedy’s in 1960 (303 electoral votes, popular vote margin of 112,827), bigger than Richard Nixon’s in 1968 (301 electoral votes, popular vote plurlaity of 512,000), bigger than Jimmy Carter’s in 1976 (297 electoral votes, popular vote margin of 1,683,247), bigger than George W. Bush’s in 2000 (271 electoral votes and a popular vote loss of 543,816).
Our friend Karl Rove attempted to suggest Tuesday night that Obama’s victory was diminished by the fact that the president did not improve on his 2008 numbers, and recalled that some presidents (Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton) have done so. But he failed to note how over the past century, many presidents have stumbled in their bids for second terms, including: George H.W. Bush (defeated in 1992), Jimmy Carter (defeated in 1976), Lyndon Johnson (decided not to seek re-election bid after 1968 primary setbacks), Harry Truman (decided not to seek re-election after 1952 primary setbacks), Herbert Hoover (defeated in 1932 re-election bid), Woodrow Wilson (won by narrower margin in 1916 than in 1912) and William Howard Taft (ran third in 1912 re-election bid).
Significantly, Rove’s man, George W. Bush won his 2004 re-election run with just 286 electoral votes, and faced serious challenges to the result in the state that put him across the 270 line: Ohio.
Never mind, Bush claimed a broad mandate.
“When you win, there is…a feeling that the people have spoken and embraced your point of view,” Bush said. “And that’s what I intend to tell Congress, that I made it clear what I intend to do as the president; now let’s work.”
Bush told reporters: “I earned capital in this campaign, political capital, and now I intend to spend it. It is my style.”
When Bush tried to spend his capital “reforming” Social Security, he failed. Obama would be wise to avoid making the same mistake.
Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid do not need to be “reformed.”
They need to be strengthened and expanded.
The president could spend some of his capital on that project.
But he ought not stop there.
As he embarks upon the second term that not all presidents are given, Obama would do well to take the counsel of National Nurses United Executive Direector Rose Ann DeMoro, who said after the election, “The President and Congress should stand with the people who elected them and reject any cuts in Social Security, Medicare, or Medicaid, strengthen Medicare by expanding it to cover everyone, and insist that Wall Street begin to repay our nation for the damage it caused our economy with a small tax on Wall Street speculation, the Robin Hood tax.”
That reference to the Robin Hood tax is worthy of note.
President Obama ought to get serious, in his second term, about finding the revenues to pay for the strengthening and expanding of necessary programs: ideally by taxing the wealthy as they were in the days of America’s greatest economic expansion, and also by imposing that “Robin Hood Tax” on financial transactions.
But Obama’s first task should be to fix the broken political system that imposes so many burdens on America democracy.
In his victory speech, Obama referenced the long lines in which Americans waited to vote for him and declared: “By the way, we need to fix that.”
That’s good. The need of democratic renewal is great after an unnecessarily crude political campaign that was, as Obama acknowledged, frequently “small… and silly.”
The place to begin is with a project he mentioned just before the Democratic National Convention: amending the constitution to overturn the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision. “Over the longer term, I think we need to seriously consider mobilizing a constitutional amendment process to overturn Citizens United (assuming the Supreme Court doesn’t revisit it),” the president wrote, in response to a question about the Court decision to allow corporations to spend as freely as they choose to influence elections. “Even if the amendment process falls short, it can shine a spotlight of the super PAC phenomenon and help apply pressure for change.”
Seeking to amend the constitution to reform our election system is an ambitious endeavor, especially for a president who has just beaten the combined power of Karl Rove and his billionaire boys club.
But it is a necessary endeavor.
And a president who has been comfortably re-elected ought not think small. He should “spend his capital” on projects worthy of the trust Americans have afforded him.