Obama Win Should Settle Argument

Voters Choose a Philosophy

President Obama's re-election was at once a deeply personal triumph and a victory for the younger, highly diverse and broadly progressive America that rallied to him. It was a result that ought to settle the bitter argument that ground the nation's government to a near-standstill.

The president spent much of the year fighting the effects of a stubbornly sluggish economic recovery and facing implacable opposition among Republicans in Congress who made defeating him a high priority. He fought back by undermining Mitt Romney's major asset as a private-equity specialist and by enlisting Bill Clinton as his chief explainer.

And he mobilized a mighty army of African-American and Hispanic voters. They were all the more determined to exercise their voting rights after Republicans sought in state after state to make it harder for them to cast ballots. Latino voters turned out overwhelmingly for the president, guaranteeing that immigration reform will be on the next Congress' agenda.

Just as important for governance over the next four years, the president took on an increasingly militant conservatism intent on vastly reducing the responsibilities of government and cutting taxes even more on the wealthiest Americans. In the process, he built an alliance of moderates and progressives who still believe in government's essential role in regulating the marketplace and widening the circle of opportunity.

Many have argued that the president ran a "small" and "negative" campaign, and he was certainly not shy about going after Romney. But this misses the extent to which Obama made specific commitments and repeatedly cast the election as a choice between two different philosophical directions.

He was not vague about what he meant. Obama campaigned explicitly on higher taxes for the wealthy as part of a balanced budget deal. He stoutly defended the federal government's interventions to bring the economy back from the brink -- and especially his rescue of the auto companies.

It cannot be forgotten that saving General Motors and Chrysler was the most "interventionist" and "intrusive" economic policy Obama pursued -- and it proved to be the most electorally successful of all of his decisions. The auto bailout was key to Obama's crucial victory in Ohio, where six in 10 voters approved the rescue. Union households in the state voted strongly for the president, and he held his own among working-class whites.

The president also called for higher levels of government spending for job training and education, particularly community colleges. And he spoke repeatedly against turning Medicare into a voucher program and sending Medicaid to the states.

The voters who re-elected the president knew what they were voting for. They also knew what they were voting against. Romney paid a high price for his comments suggesting that "47 percent" of the electorate was hopelessly dependent on government. Writing off nearly half the potential voters is never a good idea. On Tuesday, a clear majority rejected that notion. It rejected as well Rep. Paul Ryan's categorization of the country as made up of "makers" and "takers."

Romney tried hard to scramble toward the political middle in the campaign's final month, and that too should send a signal: In this election, the hard-line ideas of the tea party were rejected not only by those who voted against the Republicans but also by Republicans themselves. And Republicans know that tea party candidates, notably in Indiana and Missouri, helped spoil their chance to take control of the Senate.

Republicans will take solace in their success in holding on to the House of Representatives. But the party as a whole will have to come to terms with its failures to expand beyond its base of older white voters and to translate right-wing slogans into a coherent agenda. Republicans need to have a serious talk with themselves, and they need to change.

All of this strengthens Obama's hand. The costs are higher now if Republicans just keep saying no. They can no longer use their desire to defeat Obama as a rallying cry. They cannot credibly insist that tax increases can never be part of a solution to the nation's fiscal problems.

And now Obama will have the strongest argument a politician can offer. Repeatedly, he asked the voters to settle Washington's squabbles in his favor. On Tuesday, they did. And so a president who took office four years ago on a wave of emotion may now have behind him something more valuable and durable: a majority that thought hard about his stewardship and decided to let him finish the job he had begun.

(c) 2012, Washington Post Writers Group

About the Author

E. J. Dionne Jr. is a syndicated columnist, professor of government at Georgetown University, and a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution. His most recent book is Our Divided Political Heart: The Battle for the American Idea in an Age of Discontent (Bloomsbury Press).



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As E.J.D. says ...Obama won with Latinos, young and women. Bishops, please go to school on that victory. just figure out a new pastoral approach to these same groups..  they are the new demographic that are sliding away from your 'old' stance.  . no need for studies.. the Dem campaign wrote the plan for you.

Ed Gleason, as for the Bishops approach to Latinos, they have always been protective of immigrants and their rights; always in favor of a comprehensive and fair immigration policy. The nation, especially the Republicans, as E.J. Dionne suggests, have much to learn, in this case, from the Bishops. The Bishops have no need to "go to school;" they are the school, at least on this issue. I do agree, there needs to be a new approach to educating the young, especially Catholic young. As for women, as long as "reproductive rights (read "abortion") is perceived by, it seems, a majority of women as the core basis of their "equality," there is little hope any new approach by the Bishops on the issue will do the Church any good. Women themsleves must find grounds for their equality with men that does not rely on a right to end the life that may be growing in their wombs as a core belief.


The election does indeed give us much to consider. The Republican Party lacks cohesion because it lacks a clear identity, and the voting patterns provide an important lesson. As Romney shed his primary campaign identity and adopted more moderate positons, his polls improved steadily. That alone should be the biggest clue to Republican planners.

The election is now something for the political scientists to puzzle over. The President has work to do. He enjoys the affirmation of a popular and electoral victory. But all those members of Congress, including those in the House, will point to their own victories as affirmation from their costituents. Suddenly, the "fiscal cliff" has moved up from a remote possibility meant to force negotiations, to Plan A.  

For all of us, as citizens, the first step ought to be to put aside the strident partisan language of the campaigns: speakng with disdain of "millionaires and bilionaires" and "makers and takers" will get us nowhere. 

For our leaders, it is time to speak truth to people, and some of that will be uncomfortable: that higher taxes on the top earners will not alone balance our budget; that a decade of war, all the stimulus response to the financial crisis, and the lost revenue of the Bush tax cuts, do not come close to accounting for our $16 trillion in debt--pure and simple, our government spends, every ordinary year, far more than it takes in; that in many urban and rural school districts, today's high school diploma conveys lower literacy skills than a sixth grade education did a century ago; that many of those 46 million people who depend on food stamps face shortened lives because of obesity, not malnutrition; that our current level of job creation will not significanly lower our unemployment rate anytime soon, and no level of government spending can change that, but private sector initiative might.

Let's rally to the support of our leaders, and let's insist on real solutons that promote the common good and truly provide a preferential option for the poor. 


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