7 Nov 2012

A grim grind delivers Obama

He’s back for another four years. Barack Obama wins a second term by a tighter margin than for his first, but against a more difficult economic backdrop than any second term-winning president before him.

Mr Obama’s Democratic party has won a vital, slightly increased, majority in the Senate. There are more woman Senators than ever before. The first openly gay and lesbian Senator has been elected. The House of Representatives remains firmly in Republican hands. The right wing Tea Party’s hold on the Republican party remains. The ingredients for gridlock remain. Two states vote to legalise gay marriage; two states vote to legalise marijuana.

Those are the headlines. But there is a story here in Washington. Last night, for the second time round, I watched Obama win in the company of a thousand exuberant African American students at Howard university. Sure, they danced, they screamed, they leapt for joy. But there were no tears, none of the romance, none of the magic that greeted the first victory of the first black man ever elected to the presidency. This time it was cash, grind, and grit that delivered victory against a tough economic background and a strong sense of broken promises of hope.

A few blocks away, just after midnight I made it to the grand headquarters of the Republican party. The band was playing to an empty ballroom. Two characters slumped on chairs, apparently semi-conscious. Within minutes even the band stopped.

It felt as if the lifeblood had seeped from this body politic. In truth, despite winning the lower House of Congress, this was a bad night for the Republicans. Women voted overwhelmingly for Obama; people earning under $100,000 a year likewise. Abortion as an issue cost the party seats. It is now a white southern party and looks increasingly unlikely to win an outright national majority. Last night I met young Republicans desperate to get God out of the party; to stop talking about abortion, and to start embracing other races. This is a moment of potential change.

Most immediately, will the bruised majority in the Lower House of Congress continue to block the US budget in the more than year long gridlock on Capitol Hill? Or will they finally accept that what electors have actually done is to summon politicians to rally to unity?

This was not 2008. It was a grim grind of a night, just as it has been a grim grind of an election, drenched with some of the most expensive and hateful TV advertising ever. One great hope resides in the reality that up to four of the nine supreme court justices could come up for replacement. The law that permitted this filthy contest on television could be overturned.

Finally, as many wonder whether Obama can summon the imagination and the reaching out to become a better president than he has been thus far, spare a thought for Mitt Romney. He fought a brave campaign for a deeply divided Party. His campaign was hard, his concession dignified.

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