Crossing The Bridge To The 21st Century

When I was twelve, President Clinton accepted the Democratic nomination for the second time by asking the convention to “resolve to build that bridge to the 21st century, to meet our challenges, protect our basic values and prepare our people for the future.” In his second inaugural address, he described it as “A bridge wide enough and strong enough for every American to cross over to a blessed land of new promise.” He gave us more of a sense of the Bifröst we could walk along together than what Asgard would look like when we reached it. But last night, for the first time, as the election results rolled in, I felt for the first time like I had a sense of what the twenty-first century coalition might look like, and what we might do with it.

I said towards the end of the evening that this presidential election felt even more like a generational shift to me than the 2008 campaign did. In part, it was because of who voted, and how strongly their preferences leaned. Latino voters made up 10 percent of voters, and 71 percent of them pulled the lever for Obama and Biden. 73 percent of Asian-American voters picked the Democratic ticket. The percentage of voters between the ages of 18 and 29 rose from 18 percent in 2008 to 19 percent in 2012. 2008 wasn’t a fluke: it was a fact of a generational shift, rather than once-in-a-lifetime swell of enthusiasm. It’s not easy to capture that new coalition in a monochromatic splash of red or blue. But that doesn’t mean it’s not real.

The question is what that coalition will do, what they’re offering up a mandate for. The results of last night’s ballot initiatives offer some hints. Maine, Maryland, and Washington voters passed equal marriage rights in their states, the first referendum victories of their kind, and Minnesota voters narrowly resisted an effort to block same-sex couples from marrying. Colorado voters legalized marijuana, and Massachusetts backed medical marijuana–in states where similar initiatives failed, the margins were often quite narrow. As Ben Smith wrote at BuzzFeed, “The 2012 election marked a cultural shift as much as a political one.”

That cultural shift didn’t necessarily signal victory for traditional progressive priorities across the board, even in states President Obama carried. California rejected an effort to ban the death penalty, 53 percent to 47 percent. 55 percent of F.lorida voters supported an amendment to ban public funding for abortion care. Just because 59.8 million of us voted for the same man doesn’t mean we all did it for the same set of reasons, or even that if we did, we prioritized those reasons in the same way. There are conversations to be had, and they’re difficult ones, but I’d much rather have this set of discussions than the ones the Republican party is starting today. And looking, at least at marriage and marijuana, 1996 does seem like a very long way away. We’ve reached new territory. What we build here is up to us.