Four years ago, Barack Obama captivated the nation with a promise, and slogan, of change.
Ironically, after a hard-fought, enormously expensive and seemingly endless election campaign, he was re-elected this week on the basis of constancy.
His message: allow me to stay the course and finish what I started, in terms of bringing the economy and work force back from the brink. It is unclear whether Obama’s victory can be attributed more to the electorate’s faith in the path he carved in office or confusion over which Mitt Romney — whose views were inconsistent — was running against him. What is clear is that the grinding gridlock of political partisanship in Washington will continue unless there is a real sense that working for the good of the American people trumps petty politics.
That’s what Romney said in his graceful concession speech. And had he sounded during the campaign more like he did Tuesday night, he might well have won. But will his Republican colleagues recognize that their pledged, single-most important goal, after John McCain’s defeat — to make sure that Obama was a one-term president — led to their defeat this week?
The electorate, accused by some of falling for the hype and charisma of the upstart Obama four years ago, was well aware this time around that he is not a political messiah. Far from it. His term was flawed, he made mistakes, and he seems aware of it.
Perhaps a humbled Obama and a more realistic Republican leadership can find a way to work together for what they claim are their common goals of improving the economy, lowering the unemployment rate, and making good on the belief that America has a brighter future.
Surely the debate is only beginning in our community over whether the Jewish vote in this election — estimated to be about 70 percent, a slight drop from four years ago — is a sign that support for Obama is eroding or that, despite the concerted effort by Republicans to portray him as no friend of Israel, the president held strong. We hope that discussion is brief. It is essentially pointless, driven by partisanship, one way or the other.
The focus instead should be on ensuring that the U.S.-Israel relationship remains strong, regardless of who is in the seat of power in Washington and Jerusalem. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who has openly challenged the White House over Iran and seemed to be counting on a Romney victory, has his work cut out for him in shoring up his relationship with Obama, remembering that the U.S. is Israel’s essential and incomparable ally in a dangerous world.
With 2013 looming as the year of decision over Iran and its nuclear efforts, it is important, as well, that Obama signal to the world publicly that he, indeed, has Israel’s back. A visit to Israel to show his support certainly would go a long way toward doing that.
It is easy to imagine that, given the Iran situation and the priority in Washington on domestic issues, the Israeli-Palestinian stalemate will continue, at least for the short term. It’s understandable, but we should not be lulled into any false sense of security. The situation remains volatile and is not going away, much as many would like to ignore it.
Finally, a word about our divided Jewish community, which is all too reflective of the red-blue split in American society. We can play the blame game, with Republicans charging that the majority of American Jews, in choosing Obama, are signaling that they don’t really care about Israel, a charge that is offensive and untrue. And Democrats can counter that voting for Romney proved that Jewish Republicans have no respect for women’s rights, the underclass, etc. — equally unfair.
In truth, we need to do precisely what we are demanding of our representatives in Washington: stop trying to demonize each other and find ways to work together for the shared values we still hold dear.
It’s President Obama’s primary task, and it should be ours as well.