Compassion in chief: Why Obama won

AP President Barack Obama pauses as he speaks at the election night party on Nov. 7, 2012, in Chicago. Obama … Continued


President Barack Obama pauses as he speaks at the election night party on Nov. 7, 2012, in Chicago. Obama defeated Republican challenger former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney.

President Obama and Vice President Joe Biden’s reelection was a victory for compassion, generosity, and tolerance over calculated divide-and-conquer as the president acknowledged in his acceptance 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.”

In 2012, compassion, generosity and tolerance triumphed over the idea that there are 47 percent of Americans about whom the others need not care. Exit polls showed Obama had a massive lead over Romney on the question of which was “a candidate who cares about people like me.”

But in the arc of the campaign, it was also the sight of President Obama acting competently and compassionately in the face of the massive destruction of “Sandy” that moved the electoral needle. Tragically, many Americans are starting to realize that violent and abrupt climate change is upon us, and outsourcing the nation’s compassion and its competent disaster response is not going to work. The case for “government programs” like FEMA was made not in words but in deeds.

Tolerance won, and won decisively. This was an historic night for equality for lesbian, gay, bi-sexual and transgender Americans, and, indeed for all Americans as we came closer to equal rights for all. Voters approved marriage equality in Maine and Maryland, and rejected an amendment that would have banned gay marriage as in Minnesota.

Women voters favored Obama 55 percent to 43 percent as the series of anti-women’s rights issues from “legitimate rape” to attacks on Planned Parenthood, efforts to deny health-care coverage for contraception, and a lack of support for equal pay for women took its toll on Romney.

The huge support by women voters for President Obama is, I believe, was evidence less of a “women are more compassionate” stereotype than the simple fact that women wanted their reproductive decisions to be their decisions and not a political football. This is certainly evidenced by the defeat of Republicans Todd Akin and Richard Mourdock, who had each made such extreme statements. Planned Parenthood’s Cecile Richards said, “Women went to the polls tonight and sent a resounding message to politicians who want to insert themselves into personal health care decisions. Several key races tonight show that there is a political price to pay for demeaning and dismissing women.”

The dreams of immigrants, many of them Hispanic, were a key to the president’s victory, as he acknowledged in his acceptance speech regarding the dream of an “immigrant’s daughter” to study and become a citizen.

The Hispanic vote went decisively to Obama, as did the votes of young Americans, and, at times, this was the same voting bloc as younger Hispanics voted for President Obama.

A younger America, more diverse in terms of race, ethnicity, national origin, religion, gender, and sexual orientation than ever before, flexed its electoral muscle. This is the new America, not a fluke of 2008.

But the new America has to work together for this to work into the future.

The best news is that the social contract won. This is the idea that we have not just rights, but responsibilities to one another. As the president said, this is “[T]he belief that our destiny is shared; that this country only works when we accept certain obligations to one another and to future generations.”

A new America can be glimpsed in the complex pattern of those voters who supported not just President Obama, but this vision of shared obligation as well as shared rights.

We are, in fact, our brother’s and our sister’s keeper.

Former president of Chicago Theological Seminary (1998-2008), the Rev. Susan Brooks Thistlethwaite is professor of theology at Chicago Theological Seminary and a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress


Susan Brooks Thistlethwaite Rev. Dr. Susan Brooks Thistlethwaite is Professor of Theology and immediate past President of Chicago Theological Seminary. She is also a Senior Fellow at the Center for American Progress. Her most recent books are "#OccupytheBible: What Jesus Really Said (and Did) About Money and Power" and, as contributor and editor, "Interfaith Just Peacemaking: Jewish, Christian, and Muslim Perspectives on the New Paradigm of Peace and War."
  • charleskaye

    Give me a break. Obama won because the people that voted for him are horribly undereducated. This is a fact. Look at the exit poll data and you will find that Obama supporters had little to no college education. Romney was favoroed by those with college educations.

    No one is going to escape this fact. As income and education dropped, the likelihood of them voting for Obama rose.

    We don’t need voter ID laws… we need voter IQ laws.

    Sadly, the very people that voted for more debt, more taxes and more welfare, will be one first affected as employers begin laying off workers as a result of higer taxes and the burden of Obamacare.

    Voters just shot themselves in the foot. All the “rich” republicans will be sitting on the sidelines laughing as these ignorant voters once agin find themselves in the unemployment line over the next few years.

    This is what happens when ignorance votes… We end up closer to being Greece.

  • WmarkW

    Obama won because voters aren’t so stupid as to think nothing before 2009 matters. George W Bush lost Romney the election (as it should).

    Bush’s problem was his head wasn’t where his heart was:
    > Cut taxes to stimulate the post 9/11 economy
    > Free the people of Afghanistan and Iraq from tyranny, and they’ll embrace democracy
    > Cover senior’s prescription drugs within the free market system
    > Improve minority education, by making it illegal not to
    > Create new homeowners by developing mortage products they qualify

    These were bad ideas, but lack of compassion wasn’t the problem with them.

  • Mrs. Q

    Dear Charles,

    It doesn’t matter how educated you are, or who you support. However, if you take the time to point out how uneducated Obama’s supporters are, you should at least spell favored correctly. It would give your regurgitated remarks, a little bit of credibility. Not much, but it would help.

    Kind Regards,
    A Black, Female, College Educated, Supporter of President Barack Obama

  • peacock907

    It’s sounding kind of echo-y in here.

  • DavidJ9

    Your claims are ignorant wishful thinking. They reflect the small-minded bigotry of the GOP that betrayed its heritage when it welcomed racists with the Southern Strategy.

    You forget that Reagan and Bush kept increasing spending as they cut taxes, borrowing without an excuse. The fools in the GOP try to blame Obama for problems that Bush created.

  • plutoniandroid

    Yeah because Romney supporters were all so smart, guess you didn’t see this

  • plutoniandroid

    And also Obama won among those with postgraduate degrees by an even more significant margin, so what does that tell you? Of course, you conveniently ignored that fact, but that’s what GOP does best, ignore facts.

  • amelia45

    “…a victory for compassion, generosity, and tolerance…”

    Very true. Obama’s message and his vision is very Christian, very centered on what Jesus told us we must do and be. As a Catholic, Obama appealed to me because what he and Democrats propose is so close to Catholic Social Teaching. I know, other Catholics will think that his stance on keeping abortions legal and HHS mandate and gay marriage override all this. But not to me.

  • retrocon1

    95% of the Obama campaign was spent creating a false image of who Mitt Romney is. Obama did not run on his record, and the only vision of the future that he provided was “I need more time”.

    He lied about what happened in Benghazi, he lied about his response to Benghazi, he lied about Mitt Romney’s position on restructuring the auto industry — and a large group of people didn’t care or didn’t know better.

  • quiensabe

    Compassion, generosity and tolerance, Susan?

    Tuesday, over half of Americans, more than 47%, went to the polls and changed American. No, America as the great nation it died. Right in the arms of decadence. Here’s what we did:

    Elected a president who lied about four dead Americans at Benghazi after refusing to help them
    Elected a president who thumbs his nose at Israel
    Elected a president who will insure a swift run toward economic peril
    Legalized pot,
    Guaranteed continual degradation of the family,
    Elected a president who demonizes success,
    Guaranteed a loss of work ethic with increased welfare
    Turned our backs on Israel and God. ….
    Perfected a test for children thrown in linen closet who escape the abortionist scalpel: If you can get out of the closet, then you can live provided you escape the nurse’s grasp!
    Guaranteed an increase taxes on middle America
    Promote sodomy
    Guaranteed taxes, deficits and the impending “fiscal cliff”

    Welcome to New America, Susan! And by Mandate, too!!

  • Kingofkings1

    Dr. Thistletwaite,
    Compassion is necessary – in a leader. I do think Romney also has compassion – but he prefers to shower that on those who are in the top 5% in earnings

  • Kingofkings1

    Compassion is necessary – especially in a leader

  • cricket44

    Hysterical nonsense.

  • jarandeh

    So you are saying that the GOP is a neo-Confederacy?

  • jarandeh

    Wait, did he thumb his nose at Israel before or after he turned his back on Israel? I just want to have an accurate visual.

  • freebirdreads

    My son-in-law is an engineer and my husband has a MS in education and they both voted for Obama.

    My grandson also voted for him but has only just received his high school diploma. I guess you could say he is under educated but sheesh , he just turned 18! How many other youthful voters have yet to get some college education? That doesn’t make them under educated but appropriately educated instead.

  • unknown2cherubim

    I find Ms Thistlethwaite’s characterization of women’s voting preferences simplistic and demeaning. We vote the way we vote for reasons as various and complex as men’s.

    Yes, I voted to re-elect the President but I’m not a single-issue litmus-test voter. I’m much, much more than my choice to bear or not to bear a child. Perhaps this is not true for Ms Thistlethwaite. I would encourage her to explore feminism and perhaps adopt it one day for herself.

  • unknown2cherubim

    Ah yes, requiring those who have successfully built upon the foundation we’ve all provided here in America to give more since more has been given to them (Luke 12:48) — that’s demonizing success. You bet.

    The President is asking those of us who make more money to put our patriotism where our pocketbooks are.

  • persiflage

    ‘Wait, did he thumb his nose at Israel before or after he turned his back on Israel? I just want to have an accurate visual.’

    Over 70% of Jewish voters apparently saw it differently, and voted to re-elect him. Romney was a loose cannon in more ways than one…..

  • persiflage

    jarandah, I finally got it!

  • persiflage

    ’95% of the Obama campaign was spent creating a false image of who Mitt Romney is.’

    Ridiculous – Romney did that all by himself…..and false images is more like it.

    Anyone that knew his history also knew Mitt was far more moderate than he portrayed himself on the campaign trail – and yet he had to pander exclusively to the hard right wing and teapartiers in the GOP.

    He began moving back to the middle before it was all over, but by then he was just plain unbelievable on any issue.

  • Union1

    Yup, poor, dumb, and too foolish to be able to know when it is outwitted and outgunned.

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