Obama's priorities lie on the home front
Both of the US presidential candidates portrayed the election as a battle for the soul of the US. For Republicans, it was a question of freedom to succeed, untrammelled by government. Democrats saw it as an opportunity to right the imbalance between the wealthiest Americans and the poor and middle classes.
Obama’s victory, by 332 electoral college seats to 206 for Romney, and by 51 per cent to 48 per cent of the popular vote, was almost a landslide. The main lesson of that victory was the extent to which the US is becoming a more diverse and tolerant nation.
The census last May showed that, for the first time in US history, births among ethnic minorities outnumber those of Caucasians. Last year, 50.4 per cent of infants under the age of one were Hispanic, black, Asian or other minorities.
Eighty per cent of minority voters chose Obama. He won 93 per cent of the black vote; 73 per cent of the Asian vote; 71 per cent among Hispanics; 76 per cent of the gay, lesbian and bisexual vote and 55 per cent of women’s votes.
Republicans whinged about Obama voters “wanting stuff” (in the words of Fox News pundit Bill O’Reilly on election night) from the federal government. Romney’s post-election analysis was that Obama won by “promising gifts”.
But the 2012 election was a wake-up call: if the Republican party wants to survive, it must cease to be the party of angry old white men. The election laid bare divisions between the fiscally conservative Tea Party, war-mongering neo-conservatives, morality-obsessed evangelical Christians and the moderate establishment wing of the Grand Old Party.
The aftermath of the election confirmed the decline of the more extreme elements of the GOP. Sen Jim DeMint, the godfather of the Tea Party, resigned to lead the conservative Heritage Foundation think tank. Dick Armey, the head of FreedomWorks, another mainstay of the Tea Party, cited mismanagement when he resigned. Several Tea Party congressmen were expelled from key committees for refusing to toe the Republican party line.
For the first time three states, Maine, Maryland and Washington , voted by popular ballot to legalise same-sex marriage. The Supreme Court affirmed the importance of the issue when it agreed on December 7 to hear two gay-marriage cases next March. Two states, Colorado and Washington, voted to legalise marijuana for recreational use. Americans, it seems, care less about what people do in their bedrooms and on their own time.
Obama’s determination to pass healthcare reform was the chief manifestation in his first term of his ambition to be a historic, transformational president. But his grand vision was then constricted by partisan warfare, chiefly over budgetary issues.