President Barack Obama did not just win reelection Tuesday night. His victory signaled the irreversible triumph of a new, 21st-century America: multiracial, multi-ethnic, global in outlook and moving beyond centuries of racial, sexual, marital and religious tradition.
Howard Fineman is editorial director of the Huffington Post Media Group, where this article originally appeared.
Obama, the mixed-race son of Hawaii by way of Kansas, Indonesia, Los Angeles, New York and Chicago, won reelection in good part because he not only embodied but spoke to that New America, as did the Democratic Party he leads. His victorious coalition spoke for and about him: a good share of the white vote (about 45 percent in Ohio, for example); 70 percent or so of the Latino vote across the country, according to experts; 96 percent of the African-American vote; and large proportions of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders.
The Republican Party, by contrast, has been reduced to a rump parliament of Caucasian traditionalism: white, married, church-going — to oversimplify only slightly. “It’s a catastrophe,” said GOP strategist Steve Schmidt. “This is, this will have to be, the last time that the Republican Party tries to win this way.”
The GOP chose as its standard-bearer Mitt Romney, whose own Mormon Church until recent decades discriminated officially against blacks. His campaign made little serious effort to reach out to Hispanics voters, and Romney hurt himself by taking far-right positions on immigration during the GOP primaries. He made no effort whatsoever in the black community.
Obama reached out not only racially and ethnically, but in terms of lifestyle. Analysts made fun of, and Republicans derided, his campaign’s focus on discrete demographic and social slices of the electorate, including gays and lesbians. But the message was one about the future, not the American past.
U.S. Census numbers tell the story. In the first decade of the new millennium, the Asian-American population rose 43.3 percent, the African-American population 12.3 percent, the Latino community 43 percent — and the white population just 5.7 percent.
To be sure, the president won because of his stand on the issues — health care reform, Wall Street regulation, the auto industry bailout, among others. But his victory is something more: a sense that we are all in this together as a society, no matter who we are or how we live our lives.
I saw this new America at the heart of the Obama reelection effort, in their campaign offices. In one office in Virgina, for example, the local campaign manager was Pakistani-American, the volunteers were of every race and background, the people heading out to handle the signup drive were Hispanic, and the event they were working on was a concert by Bruce Springsteen.