President Obama and Mitt Romney didn’t deliver their post election speeches until early Wednesday morning, Eastern Time. By then, only the hardiest political buffs were likely watching, but their remarks deserved prime-time attention. That is because both the winner and loser graciously put country over partisanship and urged Americans to come together.
Mr. Obama, re-elected for a second term, vowed to begin “the painstaking work of building consensus and making the difficult compromises needed to move this country forward.” He said he was “looking forward to reaching out and working with leaders of both parties to meet the challenges we can only solve together.”
Despite an election campaign filled with images of red states and blue states, he said, Americans are “not as cynical as the pundits believe.... We are and forever will be the United States of America.” He invited Mr. Romney to the White House to discuss how they might work together to move the country forward.
Romney, even though obviously deeply disappointed by his narrow defeat, was equally gracious. “At a time like this, we can’t risk partisan bickering and political posturing. Our leaders have to reach across the aisle to do the people’s work,” he said. “We look to Democrats and Republicans in government at all levels to put the people before the politics.”
Romney also twice urged Americans to pray on behalf of the president, including that he “will be successful in guiding our nation.”
How can these lofty words be converted into badly needed actions? With Democrats in control of the White House and Senate, and a Republican majority in the House of Representatives, neither party can solve our challenging problems alone.
Major decisions will have to be made about how to cut costs, decisions that almost certainly will be unpopular with many Americans. Can national defense bear some of the cuts in an age when having the best technology trumps having the most planes, ships or personnel? Can Social Security be curtailed in a way that won’t destroy its role as an indispensable source of income for many retirees? Can Medicare undergo a make over, cutting costs while ensuring seniors still receive necessary care?
The President and Democrats say some new sources of revenue, such as raising taxes on the wealthy, are a necessary and logical part of the formula. Republicans have widely taken a pledge not to support any tax hikes. They are going to have to meet somewhere in the middle.
President Obama can explain to the American people how important avoiding the fiscal cliff is to our own wellbeing and urge us to tell our representatives in Congress not to permit it to happen. He must put every part of the budget on the table and live up to his rhetoric that he is someone willing to compromise.
The GOP must do the same, and put its “no new taxes” pledge on hold for the sake of the country. It is long past due for our representatives in Washington, including the president, to put petty politics and gamesmanship aside and be the grown-ups we desperately need.
A compromise plan to avert the fiscal cliff that includes spending cuts that are far larger than the size of any new taxes, as an example, would be in line with the broad Republican goal of reducing the size of government.
If the president and Congress work together to come up with a plan that is fair to all Americans, and explain together why any hardships it may bring are necessary, Americans will take it in stride. We have been managing tough cuts in our own households— we will understand.
Watching the president, the House of Representatives and the United States Senate pull up their sleeves and be able to move beyond bickering and act decisively on our behalf could give the American spirit the lift it needs.