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Wed Nov 7, 2012, 06:05 PM

Obama Beats Back the Right-Wing Tide - David Corn ...Mother Jones


President Barack Obama made history again, with a victory that defied a decades-long trend: Incumbents don't triumph when the economy remains in the doldrums and the public sentiment is one of unease. In an archly ideological race that pitted a progressive case for government against a conservative assault on government, the president, burdened by a slow recovery but bolstered by a brilliant ground game based on hard-and-fast demographic realities, beat back Mitt Romney, who embraced the tea-partyization of the Republican Party and campaigned (often in an ugly fashion) for the chance to be CEO of the United States.

The election, a close call for Obama, signaled that division is still rampant within the political culture. Yet in his victory speech before thousands in a Chicago convention hall, Obama spoke of the "difficult compromises needed to move this country forward." He insisted, "We are an American family, and we rise and fall together." Moments later, he strode across a confetti-drenched stage, as the PA played Bruce Springsteen's "The Rising." He had mounted something of a political resurrection.

This election was always going to be arduous for the president. Not since FDR had an incumbent commander in chief won reelection with unemployment so high. But after Obama's party took a drubbing in the 2010 congressional elections, the president concocted a strategy for retaining the White House. In the weeks after that election, he told his aides and advisers that they needed to turn the 2012 contest into a battle of values and visions—no matter whom the Republicans would nominate. The reelection fight, he and his aides believed, had to be transformed from a conventional referendum on the guy in office and his handling of the economy to a stark choice between Obama's aims and those of the GOP standard bearer.

So as the president racked up legislative victories (a tax cut compromise, ending the military's "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy, ratifying the New START arms control treaty) and then jousted with tea-party-driven congressional Republicans over the budget, the deficit, and the debt ceiling, Obama—displaying strategic patience—constantly endeavored to tether the tussle of the moment to a values-based message that emphasized the fundamental difference between him and the Rs: He wanted to preserve and use government as a communal force to fund investments in infrastructure, innovation, and education that would bolster the nation's economic prospects, raise taxes on the well-to-do to underwrite such efforts and ease the task of deficit reduction, and protect (if modify) the social safety; the other side believed in affording more power to the the markets, downsizing government, and handing greater tax breaks to the wealthy to juice up the economy.

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