It was a narrow victory for Barack Obama, one eked out in the battleground states against strong economic headwinds. But despite its closeness, this hard-earned victory was well-deserved and of historic consequence.
Some detractors are already trying to diminish his victory, but Obama has every reason to be pleased. Presidential elections play out on an Electoral College chessboard, where Team Obama out-thought and out-fought Team Romney.
As president, Obama has grappled manfully with an economic mess he inherited, in the face of small-minded, self-interested, Republican obstructionism. In the end, despite a disappointingly slow recovery, he persuaded enough voters in enough states that he had accomplished enough, and cared enough, to merit a second term.
And though the race was close, Obama’s victory will have very big effects.
It means that Obamacare, his brave experiment to expand health-care coverage, will be implemented, not repealed.
It means that deficit reduction will be done in a balanced way, with additional revenue, and not just through spending cuts, as the Republican Party has insisted. That, in turn, means that the domestic programs that Obama values but Romney considers dispensable won’t face draconian cuts.
For Mitt Romney and his supporters, the defeat will mean endless second-guessing. What if Romney, a self-professed car guy, had backed the auto-industry bailout, instead of penning his famous “Let Detroit Go Bankrupt” column? What if he hadn’t tried to outdo right-wing Republican rivals when it came to taking a hard-line on illegal immigrants? What if he had campaigned on a realistic fiscal plan rather than on one that did all the budget-cutting on the spending side?
Or, to put it another way, what if, instead of pandering to the GOP’s hard-core conservatives and trying to erase any meaningful difference between himself and his primary rivals, Romney had run as a principled moderate, in the tradition of his father, George Romney?
If so, today he might very well be the president-elect, and not just another defeated nominee from Massachusetts.