Since Mitt Romney emerged as the Republican nominee, news outlets and candidates alike struggled to frame the election: a choice between Obama and Romney, or a referendum on Barack Obama? The Obama team fought hard for the former, while the Romney camp lobbied for the latter. Romney won the framing war, but this election was not a referendum on Obama. Rather, it was a referendum on styles of governance, and on conservative and liberal ideals.
True, sensible conservatism— not a majority voice in the GOP right now —is based in a philosophy of government facilitation. The government's role is limited to that which the collective cannot fill on its own: trade agreements, a strong military, etc. It is a philosophy that places great weight on not only the effort of the individual, but also his/her generousity. The individual is the ultimate source of prosperity. It is a noble creed that, when put in true conversation with liberalism, can produce a great society.
But only when all people in that society begin on equal footing.
British Prime Minister William Gladstone defined liberalism as "the trust of the people tempered by prudence." It too is rooted in the belief that people are industrious and generous, but it does not presume equal footing. That is not to say that we liberals do not believe all men are created equal. Rather, it is a recognition that the realities of our society inhibit the experience of that equality. We believe that there is equality in being, but recognize iniquity in opportunity. For liberals, the role of the government is to protect those dis-privileged by that system. By working towards and safeguarding equality, we encourage prosperity
While conservatives held the House, the resounding victories for Obama, the Senate candidates, and several ballot initiatives spoke loudly: America needs liberalism now more than ever. We are not an equitable society, and that is what matters to us. That is not to say we should not reach out to conservatives. Civil discourse with them will help to keep our liberal dreams in check.
Let's look at some of the specific ways America chose liberalism last night and what that means for the next two and four years.
1) Immigration reform
According to census data, in 2010, Hispanics made up 16% of the population and accounted for more than half of population growth over the previous decade. Obama carried the Latino vote 3-1, according to exit polls. Despite disappointment over the kind of immigration reform Obama promised in 2008, a large portion of Obama's margin over Romney came from this voting block.
Why back the president? Because the alternative amounts to nothing more than a higher fence and "self deportation." The GOP has become increasingly hostile to Latinos. To see the truth of this, we need look no farther than Arizona, where being Latino has all but been criminalized.
America needs comprehensive immigration reform. With Maryland voters supporting the state-level version of the DREAM Act, the people have demanded that it treat our Latino citizens and non-citizens with dignity. We can no longer treat make Latino synonymous with undocumented, and we can no longer call undocumented illegal. Marylanders have restored personhood to the undocumented. It is the responsibility of the federal government to deliver that personhood nationally.
We have a further cultural examination to make. Puerto Ricans voted to approve statehood; we must now contemplate what that means for an America that has often treated Spanish as a second-class language, indicative of poverty and illegality. We can no longer call ourselves an English speaking nation, an appellation that, in earnest, has always been dubious. We must, if we are to accept Puerto Rico, accept pluralism in a big way.
2) Gay rights
Maine, Maryland, and Washington all approved marriage equality by referendum, becoming the seventh through ninth states to allow same sex couples the right to marry. Minnesota voters rejected a constitutional ban on same sex marriage. Wisconsinites elected the first openly gay woman to the U.S. Senate. We all reelected the first sitting president to support same-sex marriage, a man who has allowed us to serve openly in the military and vowed to repeal the Defense of Marriage Act.
And now it is time to make good on that promise, whether by statute or court injunction. The tide is turning toward the gays.
3) Women's rights
Mitt does not have to unpack his binders to know what this means. An infographic has been floating around Facebook, source unknown, that will tell us what the American people said about women's rights last night.
4) Health care
Florida voters resoundingly rejected a ballot measure that amounted to a direct challenge to the Affordable Care Act. Sen Claire McCaskill (D-MO) held onto her seat despite her vote for the ACA. It has been ruled constitutional, and the people who passed it have been returned to Washington. America has spoken: access to quality health care is a right and one that we want.
So much more was said last night, but this should be enough to get us started. Four more years!