Candidates and pundits frequently refer to the 2012 presidential election as "historic." Yet, the actual content of U.S. history -- the subject I teach at Texas Christian University -- has so far played a very small role in the broader public debate. Voters now must decide whether we wish to learn from our collective heritage.If we choose to learn from the past, the choice in the Nov. 6 election for president is clear: Barack Obama should be re-elected on the strength of his service to all Americans.President Obama accurately describes himself as the heir to the legacies of Franklin D. Roosevelt's New Deal and Lyndon B. Johnson's Great Society. He is not a champion of big government, but rather he believes that our political community and economic success depend on the existence of fair rules and a basic safety net.The passage of Social Security in 1935 allowed working- and middle-class Americans to retire. The extension of health insurance for the elderly and working poor through Medicare and Medicaid in 1965 lifted the country out of poverty and added dignity to retirement.Johnson's expansion of food stamps has kept millions of Americans from starving in the past five decades, along with millions more in the past four years as Obama has extended access. Yet former Massachusetts Gov. Romney, the Republican presidential nominee, wants to privatize the three key safety-net programs and cut food stamps altogether -- a set of "every man for himself" proposals that harkens back to the robber barons and laissez-faire economic policies of the Industrial Revolution and the 1920s.Romney and his supporters contend that the president has failed to end the "Great Recession" and should therefore be replaced by a new president with novel solutions. The truth is that real wages in the U.S. have fallen consistently since 1973, when energy and currency crises plunged the country into a protracted economic downturn and accelerated the disappearance of good manufacturing jobs.The tax policies of Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush defunded the federal government, while expanded defense spending and misguided foreign military adventures during both presidencies created massive deficits.Obama inherited more than a crashing economy; he also took the helm of a crippled state with a severely limited capacity to help either big business or ordinary Americans.Despite such obstacles, he saved the American auto industry and won approval for a stimulus that stopped the stock market's tailspin, preserved or created millions of jobs for working people and invested in new infrastructure and training for the future, including the green jobs incentive program.Taking the long view, it becomes clear that Obama is the best choice for America's future.As a scholar of civil rights, I see every day the degree to which his rise to the presidency has inspired countless African-Americans and other people of color to believe that they, too, are Americans -- without modifiers or hyphens.Embracing America's history as a nation of immigrants, the president opened our doors to children who arrived here without papers, allowing them to come out of the shadows, attend college, serve in the military and live the American dream.He also, for the first time, put the weight of the Oval Office behind our gay and lesbian servicemen and women as well as the right of all people to marry.And Obama, like FDR and LBJ in decades past, has stood up for public servants, college students, retirees and the rest of the 47 percent of hard-working Americans whom Romney derides as moochers.Most Americans want to lead healthy, productive lives, and they want the government to help make that possible through sound economic planning and, when needed, a robust safety net. Laissez-faire won't get the job done. If history is any indication, the choice in this election is clear.Max Krochmal is an assistant professor of history at Texas Christian University.