Barack Obama’s decisive reelection is significant in many, many ways. Even if he adds no more legislative achievements to his legacy over the next four years – and, surely, he will add some – it means that the most significant reforms of the last years are now sure to be implemented. Near-universal health care will come into effect. Millions of young, undocumented immigrants are sure to receive their promised reprieve from deportation. That, in itself, is momentous.
Tonight, though, I would like to focus on a rather different point. Across Europe, the media all too often depicts average Americans as zealous religious extremists or delusional cranks. It’s obvious enough why, especially during election season, European journalists are so tempted by that good, old, comfortingly familiar storyline. After all, there really are some very loud, and sadly very influential, members of the Republican Party who are both zealous and delusional. A depressing number of them just got reelected to the House of Representatives.
But today’s election results also show that, though these cranks and zealots may represent a very visible minority of the population, the majority decisively rejects their views. There is, of course, the plain fact (something that was so momentous four years ago, and has by now come to seem so remarkably unremarkable) that America has elected – and, today, reelected – a black man who goes by the middle name of Hussein and has roots in Hawaii, Indonesia and Kenya to the Presidency of the United States. And then there’s the fact that the people of Wisconsin have today elected Tammy Baldwin, an openly lesbian woman, to the Senate. There’s the fact that Mazie Hirono, another new member of the Senate, is Buddhist. There’s the fact that the congressional delegation of the state of New Hampshire is now made up entirely of women.
The liberal successes of the day go well beyond the astonishing candidates who were elected into office. They are also reflected in a stunning range of referendums held across the country. The people of Colorado and Washington have voted to legalize the recreational use of pot; Massachusetts voted to allow the use of marijuana for medical purposes. Even more stunningly, in Washington, Maryland, Maine and even Minnesota, majorities of the population voted for full marriage equality for homosexual couples – something that, unlike mere civil unions, exists in very few European countries so far. The list could go on. And on.