Voters back divided government again. Will it work this time?
That was the message sent by voters who re-elected Barack Obama as president, but preserved a split in Congress with Democrats holding the Senate but the House remaining under Republicans’ control.
It gives both parties a second chance and an opportunity to undo the bitter partisanship that has gripped Washington for four years and frustrated Americans who see big problems going unsolved.
But moving forward won’t be easy. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell made that plain in his post-election comments. “The voters have not endorsed the failures or excesses of the president’s first term,” McConnell said. “Now it’s time for the president to propose solutions that actually have a chance of passing the Republican-controlled House and deliver in a way that he did not in his first four years in office.”
McConnell, who said his top goal four years ago was to deny Obama a second term in office, should choose his words more carefully. Some, perhaps much, of Mitt Romney’s loss will be traced to Americans’ discontent with an opposition party that refused to compromise on big issues and isn’t seen as representative of a nation in demographic transition.
Meanwhile, Republicans are increasingly being held captive to extremists at their own peril. Obama’s gains among Hispanics and women demonstrated how out-of-touch the party has become. And no amount of bloviating by Rush Limbaugh or Sean Hannity is likely to change voters’ minds.
It’s entirely possible that Republicans will be more open to compromise. They will want to be part of any solution that gets the country working again and reduces our national debt. In addition, Obama has again signaled that he’s willing to listen to ideas from both sides of the aisle.
It worked for Bill Clinton, who saw Republicans gain seats in the midterm elections, but had success in achieving both domestic and foreign policy goals after defeating Bob Dole for a second term.
The stakes are even higher today. The first priority will be dealing with the imminent “fiscal cliff,” the automatic tax increases and spending cuts that take place if the government can’t agree on a deficit reduction strategy.
That still leaves reducing unemployment and addressing immigration on the to-do list. Given the still-divided government, one party can’t accomplish all that alone.
Both Obama, in his victory speech, and Romney, in his concession address, acknowledged the need to set partisan differences aside and reach across the aisle to work on solutions. Congress needs to follow their cues and back up those words with some long-overdue action.
Americans are tired gridlock. It’s time to abandon intransigence — like Grover Norquist’s no-tax pledge — that make flexibility on the issues impossible. And let’s get rid of the overheated rhetoric and silliness about the president’s place of birth or his college transcripts. That’s all been nonsense from the beginning.
People want officials to govern, not position themselves for the next round of elections or take shots at each other on the endless parade of pundits’ talk shows. It’s time for people of common sense and goodwill to start to serve the public as intended by the Constitution. We’re all depending on them to do the right thing.