Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Four more years of more of the same?

After all this, we're back to where we were: Barack Obama is president; Democrats control the Senate; Republicans control the House; nobody is on speaking terms. After a very divisive, partisanship-above-all-else campaign (and I'm talking about both parties and both ends of the political spectrum), we are no closer to solving the great problems that confront us. Nothing that happened on election night signifies any hope of breaking the partisan logjam that has prevented compromise over the great issues of the day.

Something has to give. President Obama won his second term in a hard-fought, swing-state-by-swing-state trudge. He can't claim much of a mandate, despite a good margin in the electoral vote. Democrats hung onto the Senate, but they owe their success more to the stupidity of Republican opponents than to the persuasiveness of their own ideas. Republicans held onto the House, but several of their tea-party freshmen were rejected. Nevertheless, Harry Reid will rule in the Senate and John Boehner in the House, and neither appears any more eager to compromise than they were day before yesterday.

Unrelenting partisanship has been bad for the country. Polls show the public detests the aggressive antagonism in Congress. The public is willing to give-and-take, but party leaders see every vote in Congress as a rallying cry for their loyal demographic groups or a noose to hang around the opposition. A pox on both their houses.

This has to end. The nation has a debt of $16 trillion, approximately equal to the annual gross domestic product. The federal budget deficit exceeds $1 trillion, piling on more debt. Social Security and Medicare are built on unsustainable bases, but compromise solutions are blocked by both parties.

More immediately, the nation faces the "fiscal cliff" of sequestration and tax increases on Jan. 1. This long-building consequence won't go away. Congress has to act, and to act, both parties must compromise.

But the public just elected the same group of leaders who have led us to this precipice. Where do we go from here?

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