Despite the disappointments of the past four years, Democrat and independent voters from all backgrounds renewed their faith in a man who promised that "the best is yet to come". Despite Romney's emergence as an able candidate of personal integrity, his appeal was fatally undercut by political fundamentalists who said, in effect: "We must go backwards to go forwards."
Obama aimed unerringly for the centre ground of American life and politics.
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Republican Party leaders and pressure groups showed they did not know where that heartland lay any more.
By campaign end, Romney, moderating his tone and positions, was finally connecting with 2012 America. Grand Old Party strategist Peggy Noonan called it Romney's "quiet rise" and there was evidence to support it. But the Tea Party zealots, radical evangelicals, homophobes, misogynists and the rest of the unthinking, feckless right had already scuppered his chances. It was too late to turn it around.
Obama won on the central issue of the economy, which should by rights have sunk his ship with all hands. Exit polls showed that just as many voters trusted Obama as Romney to handle the nation's finances, despite his term record of high unemployment and real hardship for many middle- and lower-income families.
By all historical precedents, given the figures, Romney should have sewn it up months ago. But his Reaganesque ideas were out of date.
Obama's victory was about the past as well as the future. Voters in effect endorsed his healthcare revolution, the Affordable Care Act and the Dodd-Frank financial reforms that staved off a second depression. They also backed Obama's vow not to renew the Bush tax cuts, which expire at the end of the year, and payroll and other business tax cuts. This was a vote for fairness and plain dealing over self-interest and greed.
In his concession speech, Romney showed he had heard the message. He called for renewed bipartisanship and an end to coruscating political divisions. But the Republican hard men still do not get it.
"For two years our majority in the House [of Representatives] has been the primary line of defence for the American people against a government that spends too much, taxes too much and borrows too much when left unchecked," said House speaker John Boehner. The fact the Grand Old Party still commanded a House majority, Boehner suggested, meant the obstructionism, point-scoring and ideological warfare against the Obama White House would continue.
Evidence that the Republicans are out of line and out of touch crowded in from battleground states, nearly all of which went to Obama. So, too, did the popular vote.
Obama did better than expected with white voters and accumulated massive support (60%) among Latinos. Many were apparently attracted by his decision to allow some young illegal immigrants the right to stay without fear of being deported – another Republican trigger issue that backfired.
Obama's support for Wisconsin's Tammy Baldwin, the first avowedly gay woman to run for the Senate, proved to be a plus and not the minus Republican prejudice pedlars perceived. Baldwin won – another milestone for change in the Obama era and another sign of how the United States is shifting away from the restrictive shibboleths and biases of the past.
The zeitgeist was all Obama's. Liberal causes triumphed in several states that held separate votes on single issues. Maryland and Maine became the first states to legalise same-sex marriage by popular vote. Colorado and Washington legalised some marijuana use.
In Ohio, in the heart of the US, seen as the ultimate battleground, Obama won handily in the end. A key factor? His decision to bail out the automotive industry, approved by 59% of voters interviewed in early exit polls. Here was another symbolic vote for activist government and state intervention, another body blow for the every man for himself, laissez faire and free enterprise favoured by the Republican right.
Romney proved a better man than his party deserved. He went up in most people's estimation during the campaign. He was gracious in defeat.
"This is a time of great challenges for America and I pray that the president will be successful in guiding our nation," he said.
But presidential politics is a cruel sport. The truth is, Romney is history. He no longer leads the Republican Party, if he ever did. He lost and, although he lost well, he will be pushed aside quickly. All the same, Grand Old Party managers and strategists would do well to take stock of his legacy. The big lesson for Republicans from this election is that extremism does not pay.
Obamaism circa 2012 does not mean liberalism, immorality or Godless socialism. Obamaland is where the decent, hard-working, open-minded middle lives. There are no signs, yet, at least, that Republicans are ready to adjust to the change.
A more likely reaction, like that of Britain's Bennite left during the Thatcher era, is to lurch ever closer to the political edge in pursuit of political purity and truth.
The aftermath produced a striking example of such thinking from Keith Koffler, in the White House Dossier blog: "The re-election of President Obama is a catastrophe for conservatives that will set the United States on a track from which it will be difficult to derail.
"But the task for the right is not impossible. Obama's victory is not a catastrophe, as some will maintain, because conservatism can't prevail in a presidential election. The Republican candidate, Mitt Romney, is not a conservative and he failed to assertively articulate conservative ideas.
"Rather, it's a catastrophe because Obama's left-wing agenda will now be ensconced more firmly than ever and some portions of it may never be dislodged."
This sort of unmagical thinking spells political oblivion. Unless Republicans quickly regain perspective and balance, the abyss beckons. – © Guardian News & Media 2012