LOVE YOU, LADY Obama is locked in a hug by his wife Michelle as they celebrate on stage after his victory speechin Chicago. “Let me say this publicly: Michelle, I have never loved you more,” Obama said. (AFP)
Washington, Nov. 7: Barack Obama won. But a bigger victory on Tuesday night was notched up for the ideas of change and hope on which Obama campaigned in 2008, but hastily abandoned on the altar of realpolitik once he was elected to the White House for the first time.
As results from across the US trickled in on election night, it was clear, however, that it did not matter that Obama deviated from his promised course in favour of expediency in his maiden term.
The American people yesterday enthusiastically embraced those ideas of change and hope in lieu of a President who had once touted them as his signature beliefs.
Looking at America’s political map this morning, it is tempting to be misled by almost equal shades of blue and red, the respective colours of Democrats and Republicans, and conclude that America is a divided nation.
It is not. Not any more. Elizabeth Ann Warren is proof of that. During the 1950s McCarthy era, one of the black spots in America’s history, this sensitive Harvard professor would have been condemned as a communist and destroyed, perhaps sent to jail. Last night, she was elected as the first woman senator from Massachusetts.
It was Warren who originally conceived the idea of a Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, which has become a pet hate of big banks, credit card companies, mortgage lenders, debt collectors and their ilk.
Without Warren, millions more of Americans would have been under water, drowned by the rapacious practices of lenders, which partly brought on the financial meltdown of 2008. Warren was to have headed the bureau in 2010, but Wall Street lobbied hard and saw to it that she did not get the job.
She is the embodiment of what Americans who thronged to Obama four years ago wanted his presidency to be, but was not.
Warren’s victory last night against incumbent Republican senator Scott Brown, one of the most popular politicians in New England, was proof that “liberal” is not a dirty word in America any longer.
She won from the very state where Obama’s Republican challenger, Mitt Romney, was governor and calls home. But Warren is not alone in the national consensus reflected in last night’s results that Americans have not only embraced hope and change but no longer consider liberals to be out of the mainstream.
Look at Tammy Baldwin. She will be the first openly lesbian senator in US history. Ten years ago, when George W. Bush’s storm troopers were going round the country lighting the fires of a lynch mob mentality against gays, lesbians and transgenders, Baldwin had no hope in hell of winning a senate election anywhere in the US.
Last night she won from Wisconsin of all places, the home state of Romney’s vice-presidential running mate, Paul Ryan, the state which is also notorious for having declared war against labour unions under its current Republican governor Scott Walker.
A sweetener for Democrats in Baldwin’s win was that she defeated a Republican heavyweight Tommy Thompson, who was a presidential hopeful four years ago, a former governor of Wisconsin and a member of George W. Bush’s cabinet.
Like Warren in Massachusetts, Baldwin is the first woman to be elected to the US Senate from Wisconsin. The new legislative upper chamber will have 19 women, nearly a fifth of its strength, the first time it has had so many female members.
New Hampshire will now have a delegation to Congress that will not have a single male. The state also elected a woman governor, Maggie Hassan, last night. Big gains for women represent another national consensus in the US in this election, a significant turnaround from what it was even a decade ago, when women were up against a glass ceiling in public life.
To a very large extent, the credit for this must go to Obama: some insist it belongs to First Lady Michelle, who worked behind the scenes to make a case for women. The Lilly Ledbetter Act, the very first legislation signed by Obama as President, to correct aberrations in claiming equal pay with men by women workers touched American conscience and was a turning point in this direction.
The change in the nation’s mood will not be lost on Hillary Clinton as she leaves the Obama administration, and by general belief, looks at the presidential poll prospects in 2016.
Large shades of red on the political map, which give the impression of a country almost equally divided between Democrats and Republicans also mask a reality underwritten by last night’s results that they represent a stronger repudiation of the Republican Party in its current form than may be apparent from the results at all levels.
In several Republican strongholds, Republicans themselves rejected Tea Party extremists and zealots, known here in political parlance as “wing nuts”, meaning right wing nuts. As a result in Missouri, incumbent senator Claire McCaskill, whom her own party had considered as the “most endangered Democrat” in the entire election won by a 15 percentage-point margin over wing nut Todd Akin.
Another repudiation of the Tea Party came from Indiana which was represented in the upper chamber by veteran senator Richard Lugar for 36 years. As the Republican Party veered sharply to the right, he was replaced in the party primary this year by a wing nut, Richard Mourdock.
If only Mourdock had kept his extreme views on abortion and other issues to himself, he would have won. But he opened his mouth too much and lost a sure seat for his party in favour of Democratic Congressman Joe Donnelly last night.
Americans also demonstrated with their votes that they prefer leaders who govern irrespective of what party they belong to. That is how former Virginia governor Tim Kaine, one of the architects of Obama’s 2008 victory, won the senate seat from his state and in the process carried Obama this time on his coat tails in Virginia to some extent.
George W. Bush consolidated his position in Washington after his disputed election by capitalising on fear after September 11, 2001. His key strategists like Karl Rove stoked and added to that fear by a combination of disinformation and grassroots mobilisation on social issues such as same-sex marriage, illegal immigration and Islamophobia to win re-election for Bush in 2004.
Last night’s results represented a determination among Americans that they will no longer be manipulated by fear.
In the last four years, Obama was painted in the colours of a Nazi, a socialist, a closet Muslim, an American imposter who was supposedly born abroad, possessed a fake birth certificate, and therefore, ineligible to be President.
His re-election has injected some sense of proportion to genuine political discourse in the US.