By winning re-election on Tuesday, Barack Obama graduated from president to historic president -- far beyond the fact of his being the first African-American to hold that office. Obama will turn out to be as important a figure to the 21st Century as Franklin D. Roosevelt and Ronald Reagan were to the 20th.
The first reason, of course, is that a second term guarantees that the Affordable Care Act -- a measure so closely associated with the president that even he now calls it “Obamacare” -- will become part of American life, beginning in 2014. Mitt Romney had promised to repeal the bill, and even if he’d failed at that, he would have done everything he could, as chief executive, to delay its implementation. Universal health care was the final stitch in the social safety net the Democrats have been knitting together since Roosevelt’s New Deal, in the 1930s. Obama finished the job.
Obama was re-elected on the same day that four states voted in favor of gay marriage -- the first time that’s ever happened. Obama’s endorsement of same-sex marriage, a great political risk, helped those referendums pass. He’s a leader on the most important civil rights issue of his era.
Obama also solidified a political realignment. His victory blew away the ashes of the white, conservative backlash to civil rights and the New Deal that defined American politics in the last third of the 20th Century. The coalition of religious conservatives, libertarians and blue-collar whites that Reagan built is now as worn out as the Democrats’ New Deal coalition was in the 1980s -- as Republicans found out when they tried to rally it to win one last election for the Gipper. Just as Reagan did, Obama has redefined the political center, and will force the rival party to adapt by moving there.
“In this sense,” wrote Ross Douthat in The New York Times, “just as Reagan Republicanism dominated the 1980s even though the Democrats controlled the House, our own era now clearly belongs to the Obama Democrats even though John Boehner is still speaker of the House.”
But most importantly, Obama -- the first president of non-European descent -- has destroyed the Anglo-Saxon, Protestant assumptions on which American government has been based since 1776. This, more than anything, is why his opponents hate and fear him, and why Mitt Romney won a near-record percentage of the white vote. Obama embodies the multi-cultural America that will make whites a minority by 2050. The America of the cowboy, of the frontier, of the pioneer -- that America is history. Obama’s coalition -- black, Latino, Asian, Native American, union, liberal -- is made up of cultures defined more by communal cooperation than rugged individualism. Obama’s America will be a more socialistic country than we’ve known -- although, ironically, that will make us resemble modern-day England more than we would have if the Anglo-Saxon Romney had won. Predicts Michael Lind in Salon:
By the mid-21st century, an increasingly multiracial and mixed-race U.S. is likely to be far more “European” than today’s America — much less religious and far more secular, with a majority or plurality of all races born out of wedlock, and a much bigger middle-class welfare state, mostly for the elderly, financed by European methods, including a value-added tax. There will still be a right and a left in the United States of 2050. But the right will be calling for a VAT on marijuana of 15 percent instead of 18 percent. And the conservatives of tomorrow will insist, against progressive champions of polyamory, that the law should recognize only marriage between two individuals, not among three or more.
And it all started on the South Side of Chicago, bro.