Once again, a deeply divided electorate has chosen its president by the smallest of margins — 2 percent of the popular vote. And even though the president’s electoral vote victory could be considered a landslide by comparison, the margins in most of the so-called swing states that fueled his victory were so close that, but for a few hundred thousand votes in the other direction, Mitt Romney might be president-elect today.
It’s hard to know what clinched it for Obama in almost all of the battleground states. The economy — considered the key issue with voters — has recovered somewhat from the Great Recession, but with unemployment at a stubbornly high 7.9 percent, it hardly could be considered robust. That the president scored well in the Midwest wasn’t a total shock, given his role in the auto industry bailout, which so many parts of the region benefited from, and which Romney had opposed (before the Etch-a-Sketch got shaken).
It’s also not surprising that Obama scored well with women, given the regressive positions Romney and other Republicans had taken on issues affecting them; or with the growing population of Latinos in states like Florida, Colorado and Nevada, who were obviously concerned about Romney’s stance on immigration. Romney may have also turned off some graying voters with his talk about Medicare reform and at least some middle-class voters with his devotion to trickle-down economics (i.e. more tax cuts for the rich).
Then there was Superstorm Sandy, ravaging the Northeast just a week before Election Day: Perhaps millions of Americans made the same calculation that New Jersey’s Republican Gov. Chris Christie seemed to make, realizing that when it comes to a disaster of such magnitude, a receptive federal government is important. And nothing Romney said — or might have said — could convince voters that a government led by him, rather than Obama, would be more inclined to offer help in a situation like that.
With virtually nothing changed in the makeup of Congress, Obama obviously has his work cut out for him. His victory was anything but a mandate, so it seems unlikely that House Republicans will suddenly change their tune and start cooperating with him — something they’ve resisted from Day One. Right off the bat in a lame-duck session, he has to get Democrats and Republicans to back away from the “fiscal cliff” they’re threatening to drive the economy over. Some part of the Bush-era tax cuts due to expire at year’s end have to be renewed (to spare us from an effective $600 billion tax hike) and more than $100 billion in spending must be cut to keep a comparable amount from being made indiscriminately.
This is not going to be easy because of the Republicans’ intransigence over raising taxes on the rich. But without some cooperation on taxes, how willing will Democrats be to cut domestic spending as deeply as it needs to be cut?
Wall Street investors, who bid stock prices up over the past few months, acted like they had a hangover yesterday, giving the markets their worst drubbing in months. Investors’ chief concern, according to analysts, is the fiscal cliff deadline (which, coincidentally, was created by the debt-crisis stalemate of 2011 that led to a cut in the nation’s credit rating and a brief, 20 percent drop in global stock prices).
So even before his second inauguration, Obama faces a pretty stiff test. One can only hope, now that they’ve lost the Battle of 2012, Republicans hell-bent on the president’s destruction will decide the nation’s interests are more important, and start working with him.