In the end, Mitt Romney couldn't push it over the top in Florida, Ohio, Iowa, Virginia, New Hampshire or Pennsylvania. In the West, he lost Colorado as well.

His running mate, Paul Ryan, couldn't deliver Ryan's own home state of Wisconsin.

So America will have Barack Obama for another four years.

It's a sobering thought. Clearly, Romney was right: The country cannot stay on the path of irresponsible, breakneck spending and towering debt that are Obama's legacy.

But a majority of Americans seem to want these things, and the majority rules the ballot box.

The 2012 election may have irrevocably changed the trajectory of the greatest nation ever to rise on our little blue planet. Let us wax apocalyptic: America may not long endure, as Lincoln hoped it would, not because of the 2012 election but because of the underlying culture it reflects.

Lincoln did his part to save the nation at a critical moment. The Greatest Generation, which saved it again, is fading into graveyards as less responsible generations unfired by the Great Depression have risen to take its place.

Words often attributed to Alexis de Tocqueville, the French political thinker and historian who traveled through America in the early part of the 19th century, ring ominously today:

"A democracy cannot exist as a permanent form of government," he observed. "It can only exist until the voters discover that they can vote themselves largesse from the public treasury. From that moment on, the majority always votes for the candidates promising the most benefits from the public treasury with the result that a democracy always collapses over loose fiscal policy, always followed by a dictatorship. The average age of the world's greatest civilizations has been 200 years."

Increasingly, Americans have become more dependent upon the federal government. Increasingly, the federal government has taken away and redistributed the fruits of independent labor and creativity. We have become a welfare state, and a majority of us are OK with that.

Will the United States of America endure to the end of a third century? Flip a coin.

Free elections are both a great blessing and a curse. People who are free to make their own decisions are also free to make poor decisions. And Tuesday's election, which shows that Americans are unwilling to take a more disciplined fiscal path, is an ominous portent for our long-term future.

Making the problem worse, our elected representatives tend to interlock with the people's refusal to face fiscal reality. De Tocqueville had it right on that score as well:

"The American Republic will endure until the day Congress discovers that it can bribe the public with the public's money."

Stimulus, anyone? Obamacare?

Chief Justice of the Supreme Court John Roberts hit the nail on the head last summer with the ruling that cleared the way for the massive new health care tax -- and federal control: "It is not our job to protect the people from the consequences of their political choices," he said.

Unfortunately, he is right. We must live with our choices. We must ride our ship of state even if it takes us over the economic falls.

Mitt Romney may not have been a Reagan or even a George W. Bush, but at least he offered a way back from the brink. With a second Obama term, there's no telling. We assume he will "have more flexibility after the election" to pursue not only unfavorable nuclear treaties but a social agenda more likely to lead us to second-class status than to renewal.

Yet Romney, the Republican Party and the tea party brought Tuesday's outcome upon themselves in many respects through entrenched hard-line rhetoric. For example, rather than embrace the fastest growing group in America -- Latinos -- and instead of forging realistic solutions to thorny problems like immigration, as Utah did, the political right pushed hispanics away even as Obama and the Democrats moved more to the middle.

Romney was all about his business credentials to the exclusion of the interests of important groups that have a stake in America.

It's time for acceptance of political reality. On Tuesday the American people spoke, and the question now turns to the way forward -- even as the power structure of Congress remains unchanged and the White House keeps its current occupant.

Will the bitterness continue? Or is there any way to dig out of the mess we're in? Republicans are properly shaken, but Democrats should also recognize that they don't have a free hand. Despite his victory, Obama is on notice.

America needs to take a collective deep breath and turn from the poisonous, polarized environment we've had in our highest councils for so long. Obama is president of the United States, but if he wants to forge any kind of lasting legacy -- an elusive commodity in any second term -- he's going to need to compromise.

Otherwise, he may go down in ignominious history as the Brutus who destroyed America's prosperity.