Barack Obama made history twice. Four years ago he became the first black president in American history, and on Tuesday he was reelected for a second term against all odds. Since the Franklin Delano Roosevelt era (1933-1945), not one president has been able to get reelected with the lethal combination of an 8% unemployment rate, zero growth and a job approval rating below 50%.
In the 2010 elections for Congress, the voters expressed their lack of faith in Obama and allowed the Republicans to take control of the House of Representatives. The Republicans failed to take advantage of the momentum and suffered a crushing defeat in Tuesday's elections.
There were a number of reasons behind Obama's victory: An unimpressive Republican candidate, an efficient election campaign (for the most part) and good fieldwork prior to and during Election Day. But the main factor has to do with the changing American demographics. The US is now much more diverse and multi-cultural. The majority has crossed over from the white, protestant middle class to a mosaic of minorities and groups such as the Hispanics, African Americans, Asians, workers, women and members of the LGBT community. This is the new America, with a common denominator of deprivation and the denial of basic rights.
The Democrats have always been sensitive to the minorities' needs. In the 1930s Roosevelt rebuilt the Democratic Party based on a coalition of minorities, including workers, southerners, Jews and blacks. The Democrats read the US' changing demographic map and took full advantage of it. The African-American Obama represented this coalition's ultimate candidate.
Obama's victory in 2008 could be perceived as an act of protest against the Bush Administration's responsibility for the collapse of the American economy and the failed wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Obama's second victory is a victory of the new America over the old America. The coalition of the minorities and groups that feared Mitt Romney's conservative ideology preferred Obama, who seems to be more sympathetic to their plights.
The Republican reaction to Obama's first election win was extreme, hostile and full of rage, and it eventually resulted in the establishment of the ultra-conservative Tea Party movement. The Republicans accused Obama of trying to turn the US' social-economic system upside down and establish, in essence, a welfare state. Their motto was save America from Obama, but they failed to recognize the demographic changes and continued to ignore them.
Four more years. The Obamas and Bidens after victory (Photo: AP)
The Republicans' problematic approach to issues such as women's rights and immigration cost them dearly. The GOP must adapt to the new demographic reality, just as Israeli leaders Bibi Netanyahu, Arik Sharon and Ehud Olmert changed their attitude toward the territories and a Palestinian state. Some Republicans are already demanding that the party draw the necessary lessons from Romney's defeat.
The Republican Party faces a number of challenges. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has already announced that she will quit her post. She wants to prepare for the 2016 presidential race and become the first woman to be elected president of the United States. To avoid losing three consecutive elections, the Republicans will have to rid the party of extremist groups, vie for the votes of members of minority groups and find a far more appealing candidate. They already have one: Condoleezza Rice, a black woman. What an interesting battle could develop between the former and current secretary of states.
The new America also affects Israel and its status within the US. The Democrats' sensitivity to minorities has been the main reason why American Jews, as an ethnic and religious minority, have always voted for Democratic candidates for the White House and Congress.
During Tuesday's elections, despite Obama and Romney's repeated arguments over Israel, some 70% of Jews voted for the president. Romney's strategy of trying to lure Jewish voters by stressing Obama's tense relations with Jerusalem failed completely.
Israel will also have to adapt to this new demographic reality. The Hispanics, blacks and Asians have an agenda that does not necessarily include support for the Jewish state. Their growing political power will reduce the American Jewish community's ability to influence Washington's policy and the elections. Therefore, Israel must work to forge strong ties with these minorities and communities over the next few years.
Prof. Eytan Gilboa is an expert on US affairs and is the director of the Center for International Communication at Bar-Ilan University.