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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