Democracy is like one of those photo mosaics — a collection of thousands of little pictures arranged by color and shade so that from afar it becomes a single portrait and a thing of beauty. Some of those little pictures may not be all that attractive. Some may be dark and downright ugly. But the end result is what counts.
And at the end of the presidential election of 2012, the picture that emerged was of President Barack Obama as the victor. At this writing, not all of the numbers are in, but the networks and wire services declared the president to have the necessary votes in the electoral college to win. It is possible that Mitt Romney will have more popular votes, which is not unprecedented. Four times a president has won the necessary electoral votes without winning the popular vote, most recently in 2000, when Al Gore received 540,000 more popular votes than President George W. Bush. The ability of a candidate to win a 21st century election based on a remnant of the 18th century is a quirk of our electoral process. There are those who would see it as one of those dark spots in the mosaic of democracy and others who accept it as an immutable reality, being that it’s right there in the U.S. Constitution.
It does not diminish Obama’s election any more than it did that of Bush, John Quincy Adams, Rutherford B. Hayes or Benjamin Harrison. It does not merit another minute of discussion.
The conversation that should begin in Washington, D.C., tomorrow is how this Democratic president, the Republican House of Representatives and the Democratic Senate are going provide the American people with the representative government that they have a right to expect.
Members of Congress might want to ponder this: At a time when their approval rating was in the teens in virtually every poll taken, the president’s approval rating, as reflected in the percentage of the popular vote, was about three times better.
Chance for a new start
Obama’s “I won” comment to Republican leaders early in his first term displayed a hubris that was not only unflattering, but counterproductive. But it was no less offensive or destructive than the declarations by Republicans that their job was to make Obama a one-term president.
Let’s hope that neither side is so foolish as to make equally incendiary remarks or to draw up new game plans that have more to do with partisan politics than effective governance.
Let’s hope that Republicans who not long ago had a real hope for taking over the Senate look at Tuesday’s results and realize that practicing politics on the fringe does not work. House leaders and committee chairmen should consider that drawing ideological lines in the sand or pursuing trumped up investigations rather than doing the real work of the House could have consequences for them in 2014.
Of course, even before the new House and Senate are sworn in, the lame-duck Congress has a lot of work to do. Foremost on the to-do list is to work out a budget compromise that avoids the dire consequences of sequestration.
If anyone’s stock went up higher yesterday than the president’s it should be that of the Simpson-Bowles commission. It provided a realistic blueprint for a short-term solution to sequestration and a long-term solution to the budget deficit and burgeoning national debt.
Congress and President Obama must work together over the next two months to avoid across the board cuts — even in defense spending — and tax increases at all income levels. Neither side wants to suffer through the consequences of failing to work out an agreement.
Failure to reach a compromise would have a disastrous effect on the economy and the American people. Knowing that no one wants to see an economic meltdown gives everyone in Washington added incentive to practice a bipartisanship that has been sadly missing from democracy’s mosaic in recent years.