ANDRE BAGOO Sunday, November 11 2012
TAKE NOTE of what Barack Obama said of his own victory: “I believe that if you’re willing to work hard, it doesn’t matter who you are or where you come from or what you look like or where you love. It doesn’t matter whether you’re black or white or Hispanic or Asian or Native American or young or old or rich or poor, abled, disabled, gay or straight. You can make it here in America if you’re willing to try.”
He continued, “We want our children to live in an America that isn’t weakened by inequality. We want to pass on a country that’s safe and respected and admired around the world, a country that moves with confidence beyond this time of war to shape a peace that is built on the promise of freedom and dignity for every human being.”
This was the first black President of the United States. In his first term in office, weeks before the election, he repealed “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” in the US military, a doctrine which basically banned gays from serving openly, if they chose to do so. This, too, was the President who, in a television interview seven months before the election, said gay couples should be free to marry – not just enter into civil unions.
This, too, was the President who stood up for a woman’s right to choose on the difficult question of abortion. Obama said, “As we mark the 39th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, we must remember that this Supreme Court decision not only protects a woman’s health and reproductive freedom, but also affirms a broader principle: that government should not intrude on private family matters. I remain committed to protecting a woman’s right to choose and this fundamental constitutional right.”
These were – and remain – highly divisive issues, and any other candidate, in any other year, would have declined to deal with them in the way Obama did, for fear of alienating and angering conservatives. Going into the polls, none of these issues were subject to a nationwide referendum, or if they were, they were shut down in various forms. The claim was that these things were supposedly not what “the people” wanted. The marginalised minority was supposed to sit down and shut up and take what was given to them. The result of the election has shown which politicians are more in touch with the people.
The risk Obama took was all the more audacious given his opponent. Mitt Romney, a white, upper middle-class male, is also a Mormon who even once did missionary work, like the Mormons you often see walking around Trinidad and Tobago. He was also a community church leader. Throughout his campaign this aspect of his personality was not emphasised, perhaps due to fears that the Utah-based Church of Latter Day Saints is still viewed by some as a cult. Yet, the evangelist in Romney slipped out when, in his concession speech last Tuesday, he said of Obama, “I pray that the President will be successful in guiding our nation.”
Obama’s victory was a double one: that he won the election, but also did it by taking a fair stance on minorities. It was not that he claimed he had all the definitive answers to these controversial issues. Rather, he understood that the State should err on the side of caution and make possible the conditions that would allow the marginalised and oppressed to live with dignity, a dignity inherent to them by virtue of their humanity.
“We believe in a generous America, in a compassionate America, in a tolerant America,” Obama said.