Standing out among the mainstream media’s determination to echo the standard Republican talking point that only GOP election victories actually count, Steve Benen nails the election’s real significance:

Had Obama come up short, the immediate threats to key public policies would have been significant, but the more sweeping consequence would have been the lasting damage to a progressive vision of governance.

It’s easy to imagine the recriminations this morning had the election gone the other way. The president’s 2008 victory would come to be seen as a faddish fluke, but more importantly, everything Obama fought for in his first term would be evidence of failure. For the foreseeable future, presidents would be told not to be ambitious, not to use government as a tool to make a material difference in the lives of working families, and not to rely on Keynesian economics to grow the economy through investments … or they too will end up as a one-term disappointment.

The 2012 election, then, can be seen as a referendum on Obama’s presidency — a test he passed yesterday in impressive fashion – and a referendum on the liberal experiment.

It’s what makes the president’s electoral success, not just significant in the short term, butimportant in the long term. Obama’s agenda has a new opportunity to make a meaningful, positive difference in the lives of America’s middle class, but it also establishes a precedent for history — presidents can pursue big, bold, consequential priorities, and be rewarded for it.

I’d only add that this is true even though Obama didn’t always explicitly defend activist government. Even if voters weren’t consciously voting for activist government, they were voting for the results of activist government. Thanks to the stimulus, a giant tribute to Keynes, the economy is doing just well enough that voters didn’t punish the incumbent party, in the Presidency or the Senate. No faith in government action to end recessions, no re-election.

Future presidents and Senate majorities, take note—and they will.

[Cross-posted at The Reality-based Community]

Andrew Sabl

Andrew Sabl is a Visiting Professor in the Program on Ethics, Politics, and Economics and in Political Science at Yale University.