The election is over. We can all take a breath. But that breath better be short. Because looking back—and forward—a lot of questions come to mind.
1. If the nation is as bad off as so many people believe, why did President Obama win? Discontent should have swept Mitt Romney into the Oval Office as it did Ronald Reagan in 1980 when he trounced Jimmy Carter. Granted, Mr. Obama won on a narrow popular-vote basis. Do those who voted for him know something about this nation that Romney supporters don’t? (Thursday’s report of first-time state jobless claims dropped to 355,000, a continuing sign that employment is slowly expanding.) Can Republicans learn something from this election?
2. If the Republican Party is a party of “old white men,” how did Mr. Romney come so close? The GOP seems trapped within a narrowing demographic. Yet many disaffected voters who aren’t “old white men” almost put Mitt Romney in the White House. The ideologues on the right opposed Obama from day one. But many Americans who voted for Obama in 2008 or didn’t take to Romney demonstrated disappointment with the President’s record. What did they think Obama should have done? What does Obama believe he should do differently? Can Democrats learn something from this election?
3. Will Congressional leaders choose patriotism over power? House Speaker John Boehner and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi face re-election every two years. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell—who elevated making Mr. Obama a one-term president to the top of his priority list in 2008—also faces re-election in 2014. Senate Majority leader Harry Reid has until 2016. All want to be re-elected. Have they and other Congressional leaders the courage to move to the center and end Washington’s gridlock? Or will they keep pandering to their political bases and hold the nation hostage to their ambitions? Can Congress learn something from this election?
4. Will the American people face reality? Many Americans believe that the President and Congress can control both the domestic economy and global economy. Washington can regulate pragmatically to help prevent the kind of economic bubble that led to the Great Recession. It also can encourage the building of infrastructure, from roads and bridges to better schools. But what assurances can it make of success? Will Americans continue to believe that the economy can be controlled like a dancing bear in a circus? On the geopolitical front, the U.S. can help foster positive outcomes. But do we really believe that “American Exceptionalism”—and this indeed is a great nation—grants us not only the right to recreate the world in our image but also the unfettered ability to do so? What lessons have we taken from Iraq and Afghanistan? Can the American people learn something from this election?
America in 2012 is not the America of 1952… or 1972… or 1992. The rest of the world has changed even more. One of our great strengths is flexibility. Will we use it? Or will holdouts on the edges of the right and left look backward?
I believe that Americans can look forward to better times. But we will never provide suitable answers to our extensive challenges until we start asking suitable questions.
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