President Barack Obama clinched re-election Tuesday night in a decisive victory over Republican candidate Mitt Romney, ending a race deemed historic in many ways. The results of the election, from a record number of women elected to Senate to the very re-election of a black president, indicates just how much the political and social faces of America are changing. But above all, the election demonstrates how politicians and citizens alike must unite under this new America, together rather than divided.
There is no doubt that America is transforming, moving toward record levels of tolerance and equality. The election results confirm the stirring change taking place.
For one, Wisconsin’s Tammy Baldwin became the first openly gay senator to be elected into office. Gay marriage was legalized in Maine, Maryland and Washington, the first time voters had approved the measure by popular vote after defeat in 32 states over the years.
Joining Tammy Baldwin in office are 19 other women, a record number compared to the current 17 women in the Senate. Democrat Elizabeth Warren became the first female senator in Massachusetts. Republican Deb Fischer became the first full-term female senator of Nebraska. In Hawaii, Democrat Mazie Hirono beat Linda Lingle, becoming the first Asian-American woman in the Senate. And New Hampshire takes the trophy, electing an all-woman Congressional delegation. It’s mindblowing to think how far the government has come from 20 years ago, when 1992 was deemed the “Year of the Woman” with a record of six females garnering Senate seats.
A glance at Obama’s own political success illustrates an evolving, more tolerant America. An obscure African-American senator from Illinois only a few years ago, Obama is now a two-term president. His re-election demonstrates that though racism still exists, it is waning steadily.
On the other side of the race, the Republicans, defeated in a hard-fought battle, received a wake-up call: They are in need of radical reform and structural change. Though Romney’s campaign was quite successful, as the race was as close as it was predicted to be, it relied too much on the economy as the single most important issue to voters. He failed to take a forward-enough thinking stance on education, immigration, women’s rights and gay rights, effectively alienating voting blocs that made a huge difference for the Democrats. The Republican Party must be able to rebound and adapt to the new changing America, learning to lean much more toward tolerance and middle ground than conservatism. It must also reconcile its past differences and learn to work with the Democratic Party, which must do the same.
And the fact that the 2012 election played out so similarly to the one four years ago — a Democratic president elected with a divided Congress — is not just by coincidence. America is being given a second chance to truly move forward and work through partisanship to become the America this election indicates it is on track to become.
With a changing America comes changing approaches to how citizens and politicians alike work together. Romney touched on this in his concession speech Tuesday night.
“The nation, as you know, is at a critical point,” he said. “At a time like this, we can’t risk partisan bickering and political posturing. Our leaders have to reach across the aisle to do the people’s work. And we citizens also have to rise to the occasion.”
Obama spoke to the theme of rising above division as well.
“I believe we can seize this future together because we are not as divided as our politics suggests,” he said. We’re not as cynical as the pundits believe. We are greater than the sum of our individual ambitions, and we remain more than a collection of red states and blue states.”
One of the most crucial things to remember is that reaching across the aisle is not just the government’s responsibility. It’s the government and the American people, together, united that accomplished all that we did. As the election results illustrate, from the women’s sweep of the Senate to the first-time legalization of gay marriage, the nation has a new dream that all Americans must all unite under and pursue.
In the election-closing words of Obama, “It doesn’t matter whether you’re black or white or Hispanic or Asian or Native American or young or old or rich or poor, able, disabled, gay or straight, you can make it here in America if you’re willing to try.” This election, and the nation of today, breathes life into the American dream. In a time of such divided politics, it is time to recognize that the American dream is being reinvented, and the only way to move forward is to do so together.
Valerie Yu is a freshman majoring in English.