Editorial from Newsday

President Barack Obama powered to a re-election victory last night, after a bitter and costly race that appeared deadlocked right up to Election Day.

His win Tuesday night signaled that the public is willing to give him another four years to tame the nation’s economic woes.

Enough voters favored his nuanced approach to foreign affairs, aggressive stimulus for the shattered economy and public investment to position the nation to win in the global economy. And when superstorm Sandy ravaged the East Coast last month, it put his presidential leadership on display — and reminded voters that government big enough to meet big challenges is sometimes what the nation needs.

For instance, Obama’s controversial auto industry bailout won him the support he needed in Ohio, even among blue-collar white men, to put him over the top in that key battleground state. Obama benefited from Bill Clinton‘s enthusiastic embrace of his campaign. And support among women and Hispanics was also critical to his victory.

That doesn’t signal a ringing mandate for the next four years. The nation is so ideologically polarized and riven by partisanship that it would be unrealistic to expect Obama’s victory to mark an abrupt calming of the waters. But even that fractiousness is an affirmation of who we are as a nation.

“Democracy in a nation of 300 million can be noisy, messy and complicated. That won’t change, and it shouldn’t. These arguments we have are a mark of our liberty,” Obama said Wednesday morning in his victory speech.

But if the months and years ahead prove Obama’s re-election to have been a repudiation of the ugly undercurrent of anti-other animus evident in the persistent “birther” controversy, efforts to suppress voter turnout and the “take back our country” call to arms, it will be an important milestone.

Polls that show a nation divided by race and wealth are troubling. We are one nation. Reclaiming that focus is critical if we’re going to finally solve problems that have been left to fester for far too long.

Newsday didn’t endorse Obama. Now that he’s won, we hope he’ll focus on jobs. But it will take compromise, by Republicans and Democrats, to avoid the “fiscal cliff” of tax hikes and spending cuts looming in January. It will take bipartisanship to control health care costs; protect Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid; reform the tax code; and rein in budget deficits. And unless those challenges are met, we’ll be in no position to make the investments in infrastructure, education and energy needed to secure the nation’s economic future, or to retain its standing as the leader of the free world.

Republican Mitt Romney said as much in his gracious concession speech. “The nation, as you know, is at a critical point. . . . Our leaders have to reach across the aisle to do the people’s work.”

We must also move beyond the destructive warfare between the “haves” and the “have mores.” Boosting the flagging fortunes of the poor and middle class is critical, but it shouldn’t mean unduly burdening innovators and entrepreneurs. Now more than ever, Obama must find a way to unite Americans toward a single purpose.