Editorial: Cooperation, or else
So there will be a Democrat in the White House, Republicans will control the U.S. House of Representatives, and Democrats will run the U.S. Senate. Some $6 billion spent on this election — imagine that money actually being put to good use somewhere — and America got the status quo.
Was that the goal for voters? Is continuing gridlock and zero progress toward fixes for what ails the nation what they desire?
It would be unwise to take that as the message from this election. Indeed, it would still seem that Americans want hope and change, but they recognize they can’t have either unless both sides begin working together in a way they simply have not over the last four years. Neither Democrats nor Republicans achieved a mandate to continue doing what they’ve been doing.
Barack Obama won a second term, a second chance, but by a relatively narrow margin in the popular vote, while performing worse with voters than he did four years ago, which is not unprecedented for a victorious incumbent but is rare. Obviously, voters are not wholly enamored of him or his agenda, whatever it is. On the other hand, Mitt Romney and Republicans had a Democratic incumbent as vulnerable as perhaps any since Jimmy Carter — particularly on the economy and on the spending and borrowing fronts — and they still couldn’t pull it off. What’s that tell them? They’re not exactly feeling the love either.
Meanwhile, Republicans lost seats in the House but still retained a solid majority, so this election can hardly be interpreted as a repudiation. Democrats picked up a couple of seats as well in the Senate, but their majority is far from filibuster-proof.
It would seem clear that Americans want a blend. They want cooperation. They want statesmanship, for a change.
Beyond that, the lesson from this election is that demographics are destiny and the party that willfully refuses to acknowledge that does so at its peril. Obama received just 40 percent support from white voters, lost independents and still won. He compensated with sizeable majorities among blacks, Latinos, single women and young people, who apparently and perhaps justifiably view Republicans as hostile to their interests. A GOP candidate might win a primary with small-tent politics — appealing to white, evangelical, older males — but given population trends it’s only going to get harder for that kind of conservative to win a general election. In fact the nation has changed and is changing — state initiatives to legalize marijuana and same-sex marriage did very well on Tuesday — and the Republican Party has not kept up.
One might add that the vicious and sometimes irrational rhetoric aimed at Obama virtually since he stepped foot in the Oval Office was a turn-off for many. Arguably, if anything would drive voters to the Obama camp it’s a Romney supporter like Donald Trump tweeting a tantrum Tuesday night as the tide turned in the president’s direction, speaking of this “sham,” calling for “revolution” and effectively screaming, “We are not a democracy!” Actually, we are. It must drive Trump crazy that everybody’s vote in America is equal, no matter how much money you have.
Obama also — and again — carried Catholics, which is something of a surprise given the considerable pressure put on parishioners from the pulpit there to vote Republican. On the whole Americans seem to prefer their separation of church and state, along a road that runs both ways.
In any case, one trusts many Americans were conflicted when they walked into the voting booth Tuesday. If Democrats have been feckless, lacking any discernible fiscal discipline or even a budget plan, Republicans can come across as wincingly judgmental, indifferent, even mean. That’s not a great choice. For the good of the nation, to the degree that matters, it need not be the choice.
There is no time for either side to celebrate or to mourn. The stock market fell sharply Wednesday in part on fear the nation is going over the so-called “fiscal cliff” if Republicans and Democrats can’t get their act together on tax rates and spending cuts. Judging from the results many Americans may not want entitlement reforms, but Republicans are right: That is a luxury the nation does not have if those programs are to remain solvent, if we hope to avoid drowning in a sea of debt. The corporate tax rate in America is not competitive, the highest in the developed world; don’t expect much in the way of job creation if that remains. Both parties have a self-interest in reasonable immigration reform; “self-deportation” isn’t going to cut it. The platter is full and then some.
Both sides are saying the right things about meeting each other halfway — no more “deposing the president is our top priority” talk from Republicans, which may have helped swing things Obama’s way — but fact is they have different definitions of where the “center” is. Obama must take the lead — not Democratic congressional leaders — and engage Republicans as he has not before; he should probably keep Bill Clinton around for counsel.
Ultimately, it is not asking too much of the federal government that it function. If that can’t happen, if the adults can’t take charge, don’t expect Americans to be patient or forgiving. Fundamentally they’ll have no other choice but to declare war on incumbents, and perhaps begin shopping around for a centrist third party that can actually govern (the record 20 women filling seats in the U.S. Senate may be a start). Obama may have four more years, but this incoming crew has two.
Journal Star of Peoria, Ill.