In the moments and days following last Tuesday's elections, there was plenty of talk about bipartisan politics and working together for the greater good.
From John Boehner's "We stand willing to work with any willing partner" to Mitt Romney's "Our leaders have to reach across the aisle to do the people's work," one would think American's should sit back and enjoy the ride as Washington rights the ship and puts us all back on the path to prosperity.
Well, perhaps it would be best to caution: Not so fast.
As heartening as it was to listen to Mitt Romney in his concession speech proclaim that we "look to Democrats and Republicans in government at all levels to put the people before the politics," something tells us the powers that be aren't as ready to form a circle and sing "Kum Ba Ya" while hammering out the national budget.
The national media has already cast the president's victory as one won by a narrow margin, and is all but encouraging him to be the one to reach across the aisle and compromise with the GOP in Congress. You may recall, back in 2000, that George W. Bush's "victory" over Al Gore was even narrower, but he was more than ready to set up shop in the White House and govern our country. We urge Pres. Obama to keep that in mind as he attempts to work with the more radical elements of the Republican party, which still holds a majority in the House.
Take a moment and consider these results from the national and state elections, highlighted by our colleagues at the Bennington Banner, in an editorial last week:
-- The president won the votes of nearly 95 percent of African Americans, 71 percent of Hispanics, 73 percent of Asians, and 60 percent of the youth vote in the 2012 election. This presents the Republicans with an insolvable dilemma for future elections in light of the continued gains for minority groups as a percentage of total population. The GOP, meanwhile, is becoming increasingly white, elderly, male and petulant, as the president also won handily among women voters (55 percent) -- not to mention gay voters, which brings up another trend strongly favoring Democrats.
-- After being defeated 32 times on state ballots over a number of years, gay marriage initiatives in Maine and Maryland won approval last week from voters. This continues the undeniable shift, among blue states at least, toward acceptance of full civil rights for gays. In addition, the first openly gay senator, Democrat Tammy Baldwin, was elected in Wisconsin. Republican candidates in more and more districts could find themselves on the wrong side of this and other rights issues with voters.
-- The victory of Elizabeth Warren, a Democrat from Massachusetts known as a champion of tougher regulation of Wall Street and lender activities and a strong advocate for the middle class over the wealthy and large corporations, handily defeated popular and personable Scott Brown, the Republican incumbent. Just one of many signs that most voters are fed up with pols who excuse or promote the interests of the rich and powerful over those of the working classes. (In other words, many Republicans.)
-- The defeat of Republicans expressing radical right-wing or simply outrageous views, like Todd Akin of Missouri, even in red states. Off-the-wall former presidential candidate Michele Bachmann of Minnesota narrowly escaped defeat. Many in the party already are debating how to rein in the radical retrograde elements that keep nominating nearly unelectable candidates in Republican primaries and jettisoning anyone who might compromise in Congress.
-- A $6 billion tax hike proposal by Democratic Governor Jerry Brown of California was approved by voters in the state that originated much of the mindless, tax slashing mania with its Proposition 13 initiative in 1978 -- leading at last to a hamstrung government that could not raise the revenue direly needed for basic state services. The hope is that the era of non-specific tax cuts and arbitrary caps, which hamper the ability of governments to raise revenue and make no distinction between wasteful and vital spending, is finally over.
When the president tried, after first taking office, to reach across the aisle, he met nothing but opposition, time and time again. This time around, we say he approaches Washington lawmakers with a clear vision and a point-by-point approach to further fix our nation. (We concur with the Banner's suggestions: "A plan of tax hikes -- mostly but not entirely on the wealthy, with some to kick in when the economy is in better shape -- and a reform proposal for all federal programs, including Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid and the military, as well as a tax code overhaul to promote greater fairness and simplicity.")
Instead of asking Republicans, "Is this anything we can agree on?" his tact should be a direct, "Let's see you come up with something better."
January's "fiscal cliff" may sound scary, but in truth it's a blow to Democrats and Republicans alike, from the interests each serves to the programs each supports. But the truth is, until everyone in Washington realizes we all truly are in this together, and remaining stubborn will do far more harm than good, nothing will be accomplished. Rather than being a president of compromise, Obama needs to be the leader Americans elected him to be.