One of the few things that Barack Obama and Mitt Romney agreed on during the campaign for the presidency was that this election was a choice between two very different visions of America, two very different directions for our country's future. The American people have made their choice -- a resounding victory for President Obama and Vice President Biden and a mandate for their policy agenda.
The Constitution, the Role of Government and the Common Good
In reelecting President Obama, Americans embraced the need for effective, vigorous government action to protect the rights, interests, health and well-being of every American.
In rejecting Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan, Americans rejected the notion that our communities and our country would be better off with a drastically restricted federal government demanded by the Tea Party and a "you're on your own" philosophy represented by Paul Ryan's budget.
Romney picked Ryan as his running mate for a reason -- it was a full embrace of the Tea Party wing of the GOP. The public looked at Ryan's record and his positions and said, "no thanks." John Boehner tried to reassure his Tea Party caucus with election-night bluster about taxes, but the American public had a very clear choice on economic policy. President Obama's call for the wealthiest among us to contribute their fair share to our economic recovery carried the day.
Voters embraced a sense of national purpose expressed by the authors of our Constitution: "in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity." Voters rejected the cramped and twisted interpretation of the Constitution promoted by small-government extremists.
Equality Under the Law
Voters also embraced constitutional values such as equality under the law, and rejected the call to turn back the clock on progress toward equality for LGBT Americans. President Obama urged voters in Maine, Maryland and Washington State to vote for marriage equality, and encouraged Minnesotans to reject an anti-gay constitutional amendment. Three states were wins for equality, and Washington appears headed in that direction. These victories should give new support to President Obama's backing for marriage equality and new momentum to efforts to overturn the Defense of Marriage Act. Mitt Romney, in contrast, pledged to strip the freedom to marry from same-sex couples and write discrimination into the Constitution.
The Supreme Court, Individual Rights, and Democracy
Another thing that the Obama and Romney campaigns agreed on was that this election would also determine the future direction of the Supreme Court. Both candidates made their approaches to the Court clear -- Obama with his nominations of the widely respected Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan, Romney with his choice of right-wing ideologue Robert Bork to head his judicial advisory team and his pledge to appoint nominees in the mold of the court's backward-looking conservative activists.
The Citizens United ruling and related decisions by this Supreme Court have dismantled decades of carefully crafted laws that protected the interests of individual voters by limiting the power of corporations and wealthy individuals to influence elections. The vast spending by Super PACs and other organizations created to take advantage of this new reality gave corporations and the wealthiest Americans an unprecedented ability to influence and sometimes dominate races at all levels. Those moneyed interests will start sooner, go bigger, and be even more relentless in 2014 and 2016 and forever until the Citizens United decision is either overturned by the Court or reversed by a constitutional amendment, which President Obama has endorsed.
Citizens United is just part of a broader problem with the current conservative majority on the Supreme Court, which has frequently sacrificed the rights and interests of people, actual human beings, to the interests of corporations. Consider Romney's "corporations are people, my friend." The public didn't buy this, but a majority of the Supreme Court has. If this flawed philosophy is allowed to stand, it would be devastating to the well-being of Americans and the health of our democracy. President Obama should take whatever opportunities he has in his second term to nominate Supreme Court justices whose commitment is to upholding the rights of flesh-and-blood Americans, not powerful corporate "persons."
Another key issue is women's rights. Romney made it clear that he would roll back women's rights, and not only at the doctor's office, but also on the job. While President Obama campaigned proudly on having signed the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, Romney's campaign refused to give a straight answer about where he stood on that law. Instead he promised to give us more Supreme Court justices like the ones whose decision to make it harder for women to fight job discrimination required the Ledbetter law in the first place.
One stark contrast between the two candidates was in their positions on women's access to reproductive health care. President Obama had made access to contraception a major policy initiative, and he has warned of the threat to Roe v. Wade. In contrast, Romney and Ryan staked out extreme and more extreme positions on restricting access to legal abortion. Not only did they not carry the day, but radical positions on abortion and rape played a significant role in the defeat of Romney ally Richard Mourdock in Indiana and Todd Akin in Missouri. Women's rights played a major role in this election, and an exciting group of women senators and representatives will be in office to help President Obama move these issues forward.
Comprehensive Immigration Reform
The candidates also took sharply contrasting positions on issues of particular concern to Latino voters. President Obama embraced America's promise of opportunity by moving to protect from deportation young people brought to the U.S. by their parents. Obama supports permanent solutions to our broken immigration system through the DREAM Act and comprehensive immigration reform. Mitt Romney's harsh anti-immigrant policies and rhetoric, and his plan for making people so miserable that they will choose to "self-deport," may have won him hard-right votes in the primary, but it alienated Latino voters and others -- even some Romney allies among evangelical Christians. Polls make it clear that the American public supports President Obama's commitment to comprehensive reform that gives the millions of law-abiding undocumented immigrants in the U.S. a path to citizenship.
A Mandate for Progressive Governance
After the most expensive election in our history, voters defeated the relentless efforts of billionaire bullies, voter-suppressing politicians, and political strategists who broke new ground with campaigns built on blatant falsehoods.
Americans reelected a president who has offered a vision of an American community in which equality and opportunity are for everybody, a vision of government that is willing and able to advance the common good while protecting the rights of individuals, and a vision of society in which we embrace our growing diversity as a unique strength of the American Way, not a threat to it.
With an Electoral College victory larger than that of Kennedy, Nixon, Carter and George W. Bush -- both in 2000 and 2004 -- and a popular vote victory margin of millions of votes, President Obama unquestionably has a national mandate to pursue the policies he campaigned on, among them:
- Building a Supreme Court majority that protects the legal and constitutional rights of individuals rather than sacrificing them to corporate interests;
- Overturning Citizens United and returning common sense to campaign finance laws;
- Advancing equality and opportunity for all Americans, including women, LGBT Americans and immigrants; and
- Asking the wealthiest Americans to contribute their fair share to needed investments in the common good and to the reduction of long-term deficits.
Americans are ready to move forward. They will have little patience with the petty partisan obstructionism that Republican congressional leaders are already promising.
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