On Tuesday night, a country that once sold black people as property elected a black man to its highest office for a second time. Twice now, Virginia, the seat of the old Confederacy, has given its electoral votes to America's first black president. Although Barack Obama's presidency has often departed from the best moral instincts of American liberalism, from his dismal record on clemency to his stewardship of an unaccountable national security state, the fact of his presidency represents a triumph of American liberalism's ability to push the boundaries of what is possible.
Liberalism's triumph in the 2012 election goes far beyond the reelection of the first black president of the United States:
- When the next Senate is sworn in, it will include Wisconsin's Tammy Baldwin, the first openly gay member of America's upper house.
- Colorado and Washington voted to legalize marijuana for recreational use, setting up an inevitable conflict between the federal government's immoral war on drugs and an American electorate that is growing increasingly weary of it.
- California voters declined to reject the death penalty, but they voted to raise taxes and limit the state's draconian "three strikes" law, which mandated automatic life imprisonment for individuals convicted of three felonies.
- Marriage equality supporters notched wins in four states, for the first time winning at the ballot box instead of in the courts or state legislatures.
- Maryland voters approved in-state tuition discounts for undocumented immigrants brought to the US as children.
- Senate candidates Todd Akin and Richard Mourdock, the most regressive symbols of the Republican agenda on women's rights, were defeated.
The emerging Democratic majority, as Ruy Teixera once put it, seems to have emerged. But Obama owes that coalition, to an incredible degree, to the decision of Republicans to alienate every significant minority in the country.
Blind to their own identity politics, Republicans dismissed the concerns of gays and lesbians, and women and minorities, as wish lists from "special interests." The right killed George W. Bush's effort at immigration reform in 2006, and was then captured wholesale by immigration restrictionists whose naked hostility to Latinos meant that Obama could preside over more than a million deportations and still win the Hispanic vote in a landslide. American Muslims, who once overwhelmingly voted for Bush, became a toxic fixation for Republicans who began to regard them as a potential fifth column. Granted a majority in Congress with a mandate to heal a bleak American economy, Republicans chose to focus on restricting women's access to abortion and birth control. Eager to deny Obama any legislative accomplishments whatsoever, the GOP attempted to filibuster the repeal of the military's policy banning gays and lesbians from open service. Republicans shouldn't blame Romney for his defeat, not after they paved such a narrow, winding road to victory.