Late Tuesday night I left my desk for to join 10,000 people swarming around the ice rink at Rockefeller Center where NBC was doing its coverage with giant screens on the skyscraper walls and a map on the ice of the U.S. with the states marked red and blue as the votes came it. It was very cold and all, average age of 25, were bundled up against the elements, but having a good time, though at least 80 percent were texting their absent friends rather that looking up or around.
In our family we were trained to keep our enthusiasm in check concerning events we looked forward to but, for some reason, might not happen. I had read enough analyses to be rationally confident Obama would win; but, having lived through Nixon, Reagan, and two Bushes, I was emotionally primed to ride with it if we lost. So I bought a 2 dollar hot dog and went back to my 8th floor room on 56th St., made a cup of hot tea and turned on the tube. By 11:15 CNN declared Obama the winner. My emotion was not elation but relief.
For me the most important issue was the one Nobel laureate Joseph E. Stiglitz spelled out in Sunday’s New York Times Review section: “What’s at Stake in This Election.” American inequality had become so extreme that it was no longer just a moral issue but an economic threat with worldwide consequences. The Romney-Ryan budget would “slow growth and increase unemployment while decreasing the protection of government safety nets just as Americans would need them more.” American inequality, he said, at a historic high, “is greater here than in any other advanced country, and it is rising.” It has increased because of ineffective enforcement of business competition laws, inadequate financial regulation, deficiency in corporate governance laws and ‘corporate welfare,’ huge corporate subsidies that reached new heights in the Bush administration. Mr. Romney and Mr. Ryan’s tax policies, he concluded, “would lead to more inequality . . . and would lead to a divided society, one that endangers our future — our economy, democracy and sense of national identity.”
There is no guarantee that President Obama can turn back this tide, but it is clear that his opponents would not want to. But Obama has renewed the hope he planted four years ago: maybe now, conscious of what history will say, he will risk his popularity and take on gun control and climate change.
Romney in his concession speech was excellent — calm, generous, dignified. The commentators on MSNBC were taken aback: this was a Romney they had not seen before. I turned in at 1:30 and listened to Obama’s speech as I approached the peace of sleep, then read the text this morning.
It is beautiful, the eloquent Obama who captured my idealism four years ago during the primaries as he addressed the crowd at St. Peter’s College in Jersey City, with hundreds outside who could not get in. Last night he began, the task of perfecting our union moves forward: “It moves because of you. It moves forward because you affirmed the spirit that has triumphed over war and depression, the spirit that has lifted this country from the depths of despair to the great heights of hope, the belief that while each of us will pursue our own individual dreams, we are an American family, and we rise or fall together as one nation and as one people.” That’s a good start. We should support him.
Raymond A. Schroth, S.J.