As soon out the outcome of the presidential election was known, opinion writers from across the country got busy analylizing what it all meant. Here's what they had to say:
* * *
'We are not as divided as our politics suggests," said the man who had just been re-elected president with barely 50 percent of the vote. For Barack Obama, it was the best kind of rhetoric: a self-serving statement that also happens to be true.
The president's rousing yet realistic victory speech was the night's most encouraging development.
Gone was the heavy-lidded, monotonous lecturer of last month's first presidential debate. Absent was the sarcastic, occasionally churlish campaigner of the last several weeks. This was vintage 2004 Obama, considerate of those who may disagree with him and pledging to work with his opponents.
Romney, for his part, was warm and graceful in defeat -- where was that guy last spring and summer? -- while House Speaker John Boehner offered the president congratulations and a commitment "to find common ground." Who knows? Maybe Romney will join the Obama Cabinet as the nation's first secretary of business, and Boehner will revisit the grand bargain to reduce the debt that he and Obama came so close to striking in the summer of 2011.
Or maybe not.
* * *
Los Angeles Times:
As hard-fought as the campaign was, the task of governing this divided country will be even more difficult. Had the election produced a sweeping victory for one side as in 2008 or 2010, the winner might have claimed a mandate for his party's approach. It didn't; in fact, Obama became the first president re-elected with fewer electoral votes than he won the first time.
But even a narrow win gives Obama some political capital; he should spend it now building bridges to the other side.
* * *
Mr. President, enjoy your Wednesday. Then, back to work. We implore you to recognize the mistakes of your first term.
Listen, at last, to this nation's employers. They do have a notion of what it will take to put the nation back to work. They have genuine fears about the burden that government places on them, fears about federal borrowing that now rises by $3 million every minute.
A president re-elected may be in no mood for advice. But he needs the centrist course correction that Bill Clinton steered when gridlock mired his agenda.
At the same time, we implore Republicans: Get over your Obama obsession.
He has run his last race. He has won re-election. He won in part because many moderate voters who weren't thrilled with him were nevertheless disgusted by Republicans' incessant obstructionism.
When we endorsed Obama this year, we wrote that someday the children in whom we now invest our hope will speak with today's adults about the America that we bequeathed to them. They will praise us for avoiding the financial ravages they watch other nations endure. Or they will condemn us for living ruinously beyond our means and forcing the enormous payback onto them -- a criminal act no previous American generation has committed against those who came next.
* * *
George Will, Washington Post:
A nation said to be picnicking on the slope of a volcano, with molten anger bubbling just below its thin and brittle crust, has matched a rare record of stability in its central political office: For only the second time -- the first was the Virginia dynasty of the third, fourth and fifth presidents, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison and James Monroe -- there will be three consecutive two-term presidents.
A nation vocally disgusted with the status quo has reinforced it by ratifying existing control of the executive branch and both halves of the legislative branch. Voters ratified Republican control of the House, keeping in place those excoriated as obstructionists by the president the voters retained.
Come January, Washington will be much as it has been, only more so.
Republicans can take some solace from the popular vote. But unless they respond to accelerating demographic changes -- and Obama, by pressing immigration reform, can give Republicans a reef on which they can wreck themselves -- the 58th presidential election may be like the 57th, only more so.
This election was fought over two issues as old as the Republic, the proper scope and actual competence of government. The president persuaded almost exactly half the voters. The argument continues.
* * *
Kansas City Star:
Obama did a better job than Romney of presenting himself as the more compassionate leader for the struggling middle class. In a second term, without the pressure of a re-election ahead, Obama must work to fulfill his campaign promise of four years ago to become a bipartisan healer.
The challenges ahead are too many to enumerate: Syria, Iran, terrorism, deficits, debt, slow job growth, tax inequities, climate change, energy independence. Fortunately, Obama is a more seasoned leader.
Romney ran an energetic campaign, surfacing from a bruising primary to begin remaking himself as a moderate. But his message was generally negative, focusing on the nation's problems, and that's a hard sell.
Let the healing begin.
* * *
Forget blue states and red states. Green was the dominant color in election 2012.
The U.S. Supreme Court's 2010 Citizens United decision and other court rulings allowed powerful special interests and individuals to pour an unprecedented amount of money -- often secretly -- into this year's races. Of course, these patrons will be expecting plenty in return for their support.
Congress can't overturn Citizens United, but there are other steps lawmakers can take. They can begin by requiring full and immediate online disclosure of all contributors to campaigns intended to sway elections.
* * *
Underneath the noise, this election was driven by questions with far-reaching moral and practical consequences: What is the nature of our collective responsibility toward one another? What is the legacy of the great progressive reforms of the 20th century? What is the best way to guarantee shared prosperity and economic security at a time of rapid economic change?
Such questions about the nature of the society we want to live in were at the core of dustups over some remarks by the candidates: the fight over President Obama's "you didn't build that" comment and Mitt Romney's "47 percent" remarks.
Yes, Twitter fights can numb the mind and, yes, the 2012 presidential race sometimes detoured into unbearable pettiness. Ultimately, however, it was an epic campaign -- one for the ages.* * *
Jacob Weisberg, Slate:
What ought to pain Republicans most about Obama's victory is that 2012 was entirely winnable for them. That Romney lost nonetheless is in part a tribute to his own weaknesses as a candidate. But even a clumsy candidate might have beaten Obama if not for the GOP's growing extremism.
Romney's pandering to the base made it possible for the Obama campaign to portray him as a right-wing radical from the start of the campaign. When Romney tried, much too late, to move closer to the center, Republican Senate candidates, like Todd Akin in Missouri and Richard Mourdock in Indiana, kept popping up with disgusting reminders of the GOP's retrograde views on gender issues.
For women, Latinos and young voters tempted to abandon Obama, the old Romney might have been a plausible alternative. The new Romney, fettered by a feverish GOP, was too risky a choice.
So let the season of Republican recriminations begin. The GOP now faces the challenge of self-examination and internal reform that Democrats began to undertake after losing twice to Ronald Reagan. It desperately needs the kind of centrist reform movement that was led on the other side by the Democratic Leadership Council, which paved the way for the election of a centrist Democrat named Bill Clinton in the 1990s.
* * *
The end of the long election season isn't a sad day solely for the losing candidates. It's a sad day for America, when you consider the obscene gobs of money spent by corrupting influences due to a lack of restraints.
It's time to consider whether a constitutional amendment placing some limits on campaign spending would be an undue infringement on free-speech rights.
* * *
John Dickerson, Slate
What was ratified on election night was the benefit of a permanent campaign and the talent of the Obama team. His campaign team was so formidable that it made up for all the inadequacies, vulnerabilities and missteps (remember that first debate?) of a weak incumbent president in a sputtering economy. He pulled out every stop possible: Bill Clinton, Bruce Springsteen, Stevie Wonder and Katy Perry in a dress as tight as Obama's margin in Florida.
In the end, Romney was right. It was all about the economy. But Americans seemed to want more than someone who cares about fixing the problem; they want someone they think cares about them. It was the empathy, stupid.
Obama won in 2008 as a man who floated above the vast great nation. In 2012, he remade himself into a determined, street-level fighter for the middle class. During his first campaign, Obama quoted Martin Luther King Jr., who said, "The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice." He was the first African-American president in the nation's history. Now he is the first African-American president to be re-elected. Now that he is freed of the constraints that come from having to get re-elected, the president who put his grand visions on hold to survive can get back to working on that bend.
* * *
E.J. Dionne, Washington Post
Many have argued that the president ran a "small" and "negative" campaign, and he was certainly not shy about going after Romney. But this misses the extent to which Obama made specific commitments and repeatedly cast the election as a choice between two different philosophical directions.
He was not vague about what he meant. Obama campaigned explicitly on higher taxes for the wealthy as part of a balanced budget deal. He stoutly defended the federal government's interventions to bring the economy back from the brink -- and especially his rescue of the auto companies. The president also called for higher levels of government spending for job training and education, particularly community colleges. And he spoke repeatedly against turning Medicare into a voucher program and sending Medicaid to the states.
The voters who re-elected the president knew what they were voting for.
Republicans will take solace in their success in holding on to the House of Representatives. But the party as a whole will have to come to terms with its failures to expand beyond its base of older white voters and to translate right-wing slogans into a coherent agenda. Republicans need to have a serious talk with themselves, and they need to change.
All of this strengthens Obama's hand.
* * *
Dana Milbank, Washington Post:
It was a victory party fit for the 1 percent.
Over in Chicago, the Obama campaign had invited 10,000 to fill the floor of the McCormick Place convention center. But Romney's election-night event was in a ballroom at the Boston Convention & Exhibition Center that could accommodate a few hundred. Most men wore jackets and ties; women donned dresses and heels. Secret Service agents blocked reporters from mixing with the Romney supporters as they sipped cocktails and nibbled canapes.
Outside the ballroom, waiters in black tie tended bar. Downstairs, Romney's big donors assembled in private rooms for finer fare; guards admitted only those whose credentials said "National Finance Committee."
Romney had spent nearly two years, and hundreds of millions of dollars, trying to convince Americans that he wasn't an out-of-touch millionaire unconcerned about the little people. He very nearly achieved it.
Romney's election-night celebration abandoned any pretense of being a campaign for the common man.
On election night in 2000, George W. Bush hosted an outdoor rally for thousands in Austin. In 2008, Barack Obama addressed a mass of humanity in Chicago's Grant Park.
Then there was Romney's fete -- for which reporters were charged $1,000 a seat.
* * *
Doyle McManus, Los Angeles Times:
Second terms have rarely been kind to American presidents. A second-term president is a lame duck from Election Day on; if Congress didn't fear him much before, it will soon fear him even less. And if there's any scandal lurking in an administration's closets, the second term is often when it tumbles into view.
Can Obama escape this iron rule of history? Perhaps -- but only if he finds a way to turn his own weakness into an asset. The electorate might well have fired him, except it never warmed to his opponent. The kind of campaign Obama waged didn't build much of a mandate, either. His campaign slogan was almost content-free: "Forward." Much of his pitch was negative.
Like Mitt Romney, Obama had little choice but to turn toward the center in the final weeks of the presidential campaign. No matter how strong his base of Democratic voters, Obama needed compromise-loving independents to stick with him, too.
And Obama has spent plenty of time in the last few weeks talking with Clinton, a supremely pragmatic president who regularly enraged his party's liberal base whenever he thought a lunge to the right might help him pass legislation through a Republican-held Congress.
Two factors will determine what kind of second term Obama has: One is what lessons Republicans draw from their stinging defeat; the other is what lessons Obama takes from the narrowness of his victory.
If we're lucky, we will find that we elected a different Obama from the one who won the presidency four years ago -- not just a grayer Obama, but a wiser one, too.