CHICAGO, IL — President Obama celebrated his re-election with a call for unity, asking voters of all parties to focus on the bonds that bring them together as Americans in light of a bitter and divisive campaign.
“We may have battled fiercely, but it’s only because we love this country deeply and we care so strongly about its future,” he said of his opponent, Mitt Romney. He thanked him for his public service and pledged to meet with him in the future to discuss common goals.
The president had been in the campaign trenches so long against Romney that it was almost jarring to hear his new tone, which consciously pivoted to the same uplifting phrases, themes, and issues that animated his 2008 campaign. In doing so, he offered up an implicit acknowledgement that, whether justified or not, the campaign he had fought was more polarizing than the one that preceded it.
“I know that political campaigns can sometimes seem small, even silly, and that provides plenty of fodder for the cynics who tell us that politics is nothing more than a contest of egos or the domain of special interests,” he said at one point.
Obama was misty-eyed at times and his voice caught a little as he described working across party lines in recent days with Gov. Chris Christie in New Jersey in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy. Tears flowed as freely as applause among the crowd in the room.
He argued that, for all of the faults of American politics, the process was at its heart a celebration of the best in the nation as well as its uglier side.
“Democracy in a nation of 300 million can be noisy and messy and complicated,” he said. “We have our own opinions. Each of us has deeply held beliefs. And when we go through tough times, when we make big decisions as a country, it necessarily stirs passions, stirs up controversy.”
He continued: “That won’t change after tonight. And it shouldn’t. These arguments we have are a mark of our liberty. And we can never forget that as we speak people in distant nations are risking their lives right now just for a chance to argue.”
Obama asked Americans to come together around common goals — economic growth, education, and opportunity — even as they differed on the solution. And, in a hint of political fights to come, he specifically alluded to two very specific issues, climate change and immigration, that many have speculated he would devote renewed focus towards in his second term.
Obama said Americans want a country that “isn’t threatened by the destructive power of a warming planet,” language he had avoided through much of his re-election.
“We believe in a generous America, in a compassionate America, in a tolerant America — open to the dreams of an immigrant’s daughter who studies in our schools and pledges to our flag,” he said, a reference to the DREAM Act that Republicans blocked in his first term.
He concluded with another allusion to the “hope and change” candidate that first captivated the nation in 2004, promising an America moving in “fits and starts” towards progress and unity.
“I believe we can seize this future together,” he said, “because we are not as divided as our politics suggest. We’re not as cynical as the pundits believe. We are greater than the sum of our individual ambitions, and we remain more than a collection of red states and blue states, we are and forever will be the United States of America and together with your help and God’s grace we will continue our journey forward and remind the world why it is that we live in the greatest nation on Earth.”
Benjy Sarlin is a reporter for Talking Points Memo and co-writes the campaign blog, TPM2012. He previously reported for The Daily Beast/Newsweek as their Washington Correspondent and covered local politics for the New York Sun.