On Election Day, as I stood online with dozens of voters at my Northwest Philadelphia polling place, there was a muted sense of excitement, because we, like African American voters across the country, understood that this was more than a normal election. It was an opportunity to stand up for a president who’d faced unprecedented hostility.
Now that the campaign is over, and President Barack Obama has won re-election in the wake of a contest that highlighted America’s divisions, it’s now time for all of us to work together. It’s time for us to meet each other halfway.
But compromise must be more than a post-election platitude. It must be a reality. Why? Because there was an ugliness to this campaign that was painfully apparent; an anger that resulted in off-putting displays of disrespect.
A sense of racial backlash
Even former President Bill Clinton, no stranger to rabid political opposition, pointed out in his Democratic National Convention speech that he’d never seen the kind of hatred that was focused on President Obama.
From U.S. Rep. Joe Wilson (R-S.C.), whose red-faced “You lie!” echoed across the room during a presidential speech, to gun-toting protesters who showed up during Obama’s visits to conservative areas, to Clint Eastwood’s bizarre chair monologue, the animus was palpable, evident and unrelenting.
It felt like racial backlash, and voters noticed.
Black voters, clearly upset by the president’s treatment on the national stage, voted for Obama at a rate of 93 percent, according to NBC News exit polls.
But race was not the reason that Obama won. He won because voters from across the political spectrum supported him. He won because people came together.
NBC’s exit polls indicated that 71 percent of Latinos, 67 percent of unmarried women and 60 percent of voters age 18-29 voted for Obama. They formed the basis for a diverse coalition.
The moral of the political story
What does that mean for the country? It means that national elections can no longer be decided by one group — not blacks, whites or Latinos, not the young or the old, not conservatives or liberals.
Instead, America’s national elections will be decided by people with varied backgrounds and experiences; people who look like all of us. And that’s how it should be.
As a father and husband, I want my children to live in a country where their voices and input will be valued.
If my children choose to align themselves with a party that’s fiscally or socially conservative, I want them to be welcome at the table.
If my children choose to affiliate with liberals, I want them to be equal partners, not token symbols of inclusion.
If my children decide to take another path, that’s fine with me, too, as long as their worth is recognized.
The truth is simply this: Every perspective has value.
If we can talk to each other rather than talking at each other, look past our differences and embrace our commonalities, and can come together rather than coming apart, we can achieve great things as a nation. We can embrace the very best of America.
But first we have to learn to work together. The time for us to do that is now.