Nik Dirga: Obama's victory part of slowly rising tide

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It's not exactly a revelation that if New Zealanders and the rest of the world had been able to vote for Barack Obama too, he probably would've won a landslide victory for the ages.

Obama has always been more popular abroad than in his homeland. Of the nearly 8000 who voted in a nzherald.co.nz online poll, 75 percent of them called themselves "relieved" at Obama's re-election. The perception among many Kiwis seems to be that President Romney would have been a disaster.

Like many Americans living here in New Zealand, my vote went to Obama.

We saw a steady narrative over the last few months that this was the closest race of all time, but it wasn't really in the end. Obama won convincingly, and when the final figures are in he should probably win by about the same amount George W. Bush won over John Kerry in 2004.

Yet despite the apparent closeness of the race, Obama won in all the ways that matter - younger voters, ethnic voters, women voters, urban centres.

There is a deep divide in American culture, but believe it or not it is shrinking all the time. The problem is that the right-wing media is very loud and very aggressive, and makes so much noise that it can make the divide seem deeper than it really is.

The fact is, in 2012 the growing parts of America look a lot more like Barack Obama - a melting pot of different cultures, of different perspectives and beliefs - than they do the white, patrician and very wealthy Mitt Romney.

Look beyond the big race to see changes in the American mosaic. The first gay Senator was elected. The first Asian Senator. More women than ever before are in the US Congress.

And notably, it would have been inconceivable in America even 10, 15 years ago that gay marriage would be passed in several states and marijuana actually legalised for personal use in two states, Colorado and Washington.

It's a slow and steady march rather than a dam bursting, but despite the bellowing from Fox News, the liberal is becoming commonplace in many areas of American life.

That's not to say change isn't fought. One of the most depressing bits of election news today from the US was a report that college students "rioted" at the University of Mississippi over Obama winning.

I felt a personal stake in that news - "Ole Miss" is where I went to university and where I lived for several years in my twenties. It is a conservative place, deep in the heart of Mississippi, but it is also a place that has changed, slow and steady, in the past 50 years since riots erupted over the first black man to try and attend the college.

To see that a handful of drunken, ignorant young white students apparently shouted racial taunts and burned an Obama/Biden sign was rather heartbreaking. The story made the international news.

I love Ole Miss, despite its faults and tattered history, and know many liberal, open-minded people there who were as dismayed as me to see a small crowd once again verifying much of the rest of the world's worst stereotypes about Mississippi.

"We still live in an imperfect world," University of Mississippi Chancellor Dan Jones wrote in an email to all alumni and students today, as he strongly condemned the students' behaviour.

And we do. There are a lot of bad things that happen in America still - a lot of bad things that happen in every single country every day, including New Zealand. The imperfect world is never going away in my lifetime.

Yet gay marriage is talked about openly, California voters actually decided to pay higher taxes to support schools, and a black man has just won the highest office in the land - for the second time. These are liberal progress by any calculus.

Relieved by Obama's election? I certainly am. But I'm also pleased, because to me it confirms that sometimes, my country lives up to what it can be capable of at its best moments, and that the actions of a few dumb students in my old college town are those of the true minority.

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