The people have spoken, but the messages of Election Day are not easily heard in the cacophony of our political culture. Americans have conflicting thoughts. If anything, our political divisions are deepening over time. We have a divided government because we are a divided people. This is who we are.
Contrary to what the president famously declared when he came to prominence in 2004, and which he echoed early Wednesday in his victory speech, there really does seem to be a Red America and a Blue America, each seeing a markedly different reality. That’s why seven in 10 Democrats say the economy is getting better, while nearly six in 10 Republicans say it’s getting worse, according to exit polls.
Somehow, Vermont, which reelected a socialist senator, is part of the same country as Oklahoma, where voters on Tuesday passed a measure to eliminate all affirmative action in state hiring and contracting.
When President Obama took a stage in Chicago in the wee hours of Wednesday morning, he described the country’s stark ideological disconnect as an outcome of our political blessings:
“Democracy in a nation of 300 million can be noisy and messy and complicated,” he said. “We have our own opinions. Each of us has deeply held beliefs. And when we go through tough times, when we make big decisions as a country, it necessarily stirs passions, stirs up controversy.
“That won’t change after tonight, and it shouldn’t. These arguments we have are a mark of our liberty. We can never forget that, as we speak, people in distant nations are risking their lives right now just for a chance to argue about the issues that matter, the chance to cast their ballots like we did today.”
By traditional calculations, the president was perfectly positioned to lose reelection, with the economy crawling along, the unemployment rate stubbornly close to 8 percent, and key states like Florida and Nevada struggling to emerge from a protracted housing crisis. But when voters were asked in exit polls Tuesday whom they blamed for the nation’s economic malaise, only 38 percent said Obama.
Instead, 53 percent blamed a man so out of the spotlight recently that he may well be in a witness protection program: George W. Bush.
“Obama’s done the best he could with what he’s been handed,” said Donna Namchek, 43, a business manager in Henderson, Nev.
Namchek was among the scores of swing-state voters who spoke to Washington Post reporters on Election Day and in the days and weeks leading up to it. Many said explicitly that Obama inherited a mess and needs more time to clean it up.