The people have spoken. President Obama has won a chance to move beyond the stunted progress of his first term and, perhaps, become a historic president. On the losing side, the Republican Party remains shut out of the White House and has blown a chance to take over the U.S. Senate, largely because it catered to the narrow concerns of tea party zealots and social conservatives who imagined themselves as the only authentic Americans but who are, in fact, way out of step with most of the people in this country.
If Republicans fail to learn the lesson of this election they are fools. If they continue to let Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity set the angry, extreme tone for their philosophy; if they continue to let anti-science religious fundamentalists dictate their social agenda; and if they think Mitt Romney fell short because he was not conservative enough when, in fact, he only began to catch on with moderate voters when he suddenly veered from his self-proclaimed “severe conservatism” and transformed back into a Massachusetts moderate; then they are doomed to become a party of the past.
Obama was reelected by a coalition representing what the United States is becoming. Sure, a lot of aging, parochial white people do not like it – they do not like gays getting married or Latinos getting a chance at citizenship or urban liberals telling them that we are not just a nation of self-reliant cowboys, but a diverse, multiracial society that needs to be more tolerant and economically egalitarian. But this was quite possibly the last election in which a party that seemed to represent only this traditional, white America had a shot at victory.
That does not mean a conservative cannot become president. A pragmatic fiscal conservative with an enlightened view of immigration and a tolerant attitude on social issues could do quite well. Romney could have run as just such a candidate. He certainly tried to pose as one in the final weeks of the campaign, but it was too late for him to take back all his primary campaign pandering to the right wing.
Speaker of the House John A. Boehner can take the first step in a new direction for the GOP as soon as Congress is back in session. Just because his party has gerrymandered its way into a fairly safe majority in the House does not mean he can continue to carry on as if this election did not happen. Boehner should make it clear the time has come for compromise and deal-making. He needs to tell the tea party purists in his caucus that they had their shot and it did not work. All the obstructionism and all the weird rhetoric about rape and birth control and birth certificates ultimately hurt the Republican cause.
The election was very close, but there is no disputing the outcome. President Obama won.
The country needs a fresh start. Obama needs to be magnanimous, but he deserves a new level of respect. No more unyielding opposition at every turn. No more credence given to paranoid slanders from right-wing loud mouths and Internet trolls. We have a lot of challenges to deal with, from renewing the struggling middle class to facing up to the looming perils of climate change. We need both parties engaged in finding sane, smart solutions.
Republicans say they love America. For their own sake, and for the sake of the country, they need to start showing a little love for the new USA – the USA that just gave President Obama four more years.