Editorial: Important lessons from election
President Barack Obama , joined by his wife Michelle, Vice President Joe Biden and his spouse Jill acknowledge applause after Obama delivered his victory speech to supporters gathered in Chicago early Wednesday Nov. 7 2012. (AP Photo/Jerome Delay) Purchase photo reprints »
President Barack Obama goes back to the White House and back to work this week as political analysts, social scientists and pundits of all stripes pore over the election numbers and survey results to decipher meaning from the 2012 election.
In our opinion, here are some of the important take-away ideas from Tuesday’s results.
LEADERSHIP ACKNOWLEDGED: Many Americans are unhappy with the state of the economy, but the majority understand that it could be a lot worse.
Even before he took office, Obama and his team started work on a stimulus package to keep the economy from slipping into another Great Depression. The stimulus bill worked, creating 2.5 million jobs and keeping unemployment from hitting 12 percent. The auto industry rescue worked, as clearly evidenced by the strength of the president’s support this week from Ohio, Pennsylvania and Michigan, the heartland of industrial America. The Dow Jones Industrial Average is 5,000 points higher today than it was at the start of his first term.
The president did not restore the economy to full steam, but he restored enough confidence that the majority of voters trust him to carry us forward. That’s a confidence that appears to cut across all demographic groups. The president can take heart from the vote.
Mitt Romney adopted positions he thought his audiences wanted to hear and hung on to outdated GOP economic policies of budget cuts, tax reductions and deregulation that did not make sense given the economy of the last four years. Romney also made it clear, in private words as well as promised policy, that his administration would make the rich richer at the expense of the rest. Divided as we may be on some issues, equality is a core belief of all Americans.
THE CENTER SPEAKS: An estimated $6 billion dollars was spent in the races for president and for congressional seats to produce what is basically status quo in Washington. President Obama is back in the White House, the Republicans control the House and Democrats have a narrow lead in the Senate. Some say there will be no change in the political landscape or the gridlock in Washington.
The voter turnout, the willingness of voters to wait in long lines well past the polling hours, shows just how deeply Americans care about the future of the country.
Some will argue the closeness of the popular vote suggests the president does not return to Washington with a clear mandate. Neither party has a clear mandate, but the election is a victory for the center. Even Mitt Romney’s relative success can be attributed to the fact that he moved away from the Republican extremes he had catered to during the primaries by moving to more moderate, centrist positions for the national race.
WHAT MUST CHANGE: Because the center prevailed, governing from and for the center is going to mean a willingness to bargain and compromise. In his victory speech, President Obama again demonstrated his powerful rhetorical skills. At one point he said, “And whether I earned your vote or not, I have listened to you, I have learned from you, and you’ve made me a better president. And with your stories and your struggles, I return to the White House more determined and more inspired than ever about the work there is to do and the future that lies ahead.” The president needs to turn that sentiment into action.
As we saw during Obama’s first term, rhetoric will only carry him so far. The president needs to become the negotiator in chief, get out of the White House and engage with his opponents on Capitol Hill. The majority want and will accept compromise for the good of the nation.
This is a point Olympia J. Snowe, the Republican senator for Maine, has been making in her “farewell” speaking tour. Snowe is ending a 34-year career on Capitol Hill because she believes the institution is crippled by divisive politics. She is becoming a board member of the National Institute for Civil Discourse.
In an essay in the Washington Post in March Snowe wrote: “In a politically diverse nation, only by finding that common ground can we achieve results for the common good. That is not happening today and, frankly, I do not see it happening in the near future. For change to occur, our leaders must understand that there is not only strength in compromise, courage in conciliation and honor in consensus-building — but also a political reward for following these tenets. That reward will be real only if the people demonstrate their desire for politicians to come together after the planks in their respective party platforms do not prevail.”
ISSUES TO TACKLE: There are plenty of issues to start with, issues on which both parties already share common interests or have a strong need to see settled. Both parties agree that there is a need for tax reform and that the growing deficit will be a fiscal albatros for future generations. They understand that Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid will not survive the growing boomer population without change. There is agreement on the need for energy security and a better-educated America to compete in the global economy. Those are issues on which there are some points of common agreement.
However, the first place the president and legislative leaders must start is with the looming “fiscal cliff.” If no action is taken, a series of tax hikes and spending cuts will take effect Jan. 1. This could undo all the work of the last four years and push us back into recession. The president’s leadership, and his willingness to bring congressional leaders to the table in the next 60 days, will not only shape the rest of his presidency but the state of the nation as well.