President Barack Obama's improbable rise from community organizer to the nation’s first black commander-in-chief is a story essentially synonymous with what it means to live the American dream.
His reelection to the nation's highest office on Tuesday night was yet another monumental for Obama, who managed to win the presidency over his Republican challenger, Mitt Romney, after a highly competitve campaign and combative first term that appeared to stoke the the partisanship he had vowed to transcend in 2008.
"You reaffirmed 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," Obama said during a victory rally with supporters in Chicago. "Tonight, in this election, you, the American people, reminded us that while our road has been hard, while our journey has been long, we have picked ourselves up, we have fought our way back, and we know in our hearts that, for the United States of America, the best is yet to come.
Obama said Romney had called him to congratulate him on his success. After noting the Romney family's longtime contribution to American politics, Obama also said he looked forward to meeting with the former Massachusetts governor to "talk about where we can work together to move this country forward."
Obama’s first term was already historic: In addition to being the first African-American president in a country still culturally scarred by its original sin -- the African slave trade -- he led the quest to succesfully pass the nation’s first sweeping health care overhaul, took the reins during the worst financial crisis in more than half a century and became the first sitting U.S. president to publicly support same-sex marriage.
Born to modest beginnings, he used education to launch his social and political rise. After attending two colleges, including Columbia University in New York, Obama moved to Chicago, where he famously worked as a community organizer before going to Harvard Law School, eventually becoming the first African-American to edit the Harvard Law Review.
His marriage to Michelle Robinson, a Chicago native, allowed him to build solid roots in the community that helped him climb through the ranks of Illinois politics, ultimately leading him to his now-iconic appearance at the 2004 Democratic National Convention.
Obama, now a graying, subdued statesman whose first term as president has clearly wrought havoc on both his appearance and his attitude, has come far from the youthful outsider who dared Americans to have the audacity to hope for real social and political change in 2008.
That collective sense of hope has certainly fizzled. But Obama has continued to champion many of the causes he promised to tackle four years ago: taking on health care reform; withdrawing American military forces from the Middle East, supporting tax breaks for middle- and lower-income families, pushing for financial reform and encouraging gender-equality legislation.
The president's reelection ensures that his signature legislative accomplishment, the health care reform law popularly known as Obamacare, will survive and be fully implemented during his second term.
For Obama, Tuesday represented the last day of national campaigning that began back in 2004, when his keynote address at the Democratic Convention transformed him from an obscure Illinois state senator into a man who could credibly aspire to become the most powerful leader on the planet -- and did, in four short years.
The president ended his victory speech -- where the words "dream" and "hope" once again made frequent appearances -- on the note of national unity that had echoed throughout his address.
"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," he said.
Ashley covers U.S. politics for the International Business Times, with a focus on civil liberties, women's issues and campaign finance. Her work has also appeared in The...