Here are post-election statements by three powerful Republicans about how the winners should conduct themselves in Washington. These comments were not shouted out at rallies but expressed with care, after a good night’s sleep:
“If the administration wants cooperation, it will have to begin to move in our direction.”
—Mitch McConnell, Republican Senate Minority Leader
“President Obama must decide whether he will heed the will of the people and work with us to address their concerns, or continue on a path the people have rejected.”
—John Boehner, next Speaker of the House of Representatives
“Tea Party Republicans were elected to go to Washington and save the country—not be co-opted by the club. So put on your boxing gloves. The fight begins today.”
—Jim De Mint, Republican senator from South Carolina
Before the super-rich and affluent pensioners discovered that influencing elections was more fun than buying lobbyists to seduce the winners, elections were, in large part, amateur affairs. Elections cleared the air, punished failure, and attracted new talent. When the elections were over, government got back to making decisions, with the influential assistance of professional policy advisors.
Pollsters and party organizers were invited in, from time to time, and would draw attention to the electoral consequences of actions taken in the self-important climate of the modern super state. But, after elections, Washington steadily returned to its core business—a center of government overseen by representatives of the people.
Politicians who got up every morning claiming to speak for and be bound hand-and-foot by “the will of the people” were dismissed as either unqualified to make decisions or shirkers more interested in the next election than the task of governing.
Two years ago, it was palpable that President–elect Barack Obama wanted to restore that traditional style of government. Certainly, for him, it would have been a pretty good fit. He’s not a backroom backslapper, but he’s very smart, and traditional government is far more disciplined and demanding than the so-called “permanent campaign” waged in Washington today.
After a $4 billion election, however, it doesn’t look very likely that electoral politics’ vast consulting beehive will defer to the more cerebral concerns of good government. Most pundits in Canada and in the United States anticipate at least two more years of legislative gridlock and, at best, small gestures to avoid both sides looking completely inept.
This prediction could turn out to be wrong. Not because today’s observers unfairly underestimate the motives of Washington politicians but because events may not let them get away with it. Benign circumstances allow for unimaginable mediocrity. But America is again approaching bracing times. There is no international mechanism to bail it out, and every day fresh questions are asked about its financial integrity and strategic prospects. So, American leaders may again have to act with the audacity—without paralyzing regard for partisan interests—they demonstrated only two years ago. Saving the banking industry, staving off depression, and stabilizing the world trading system deserved bipartisan attention and, fortunately, for a while, got it.
As just happened in Great Britain, America’s executive and legislative leaders may have no choice but to agree on a fiscal policy consistent with economic growth, social peace, and a trustworthy currency. As with Britain’s Chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osborne, Republicans and Democrats in position of responsibility may have to sign on to their own “unavoidable budget.” As in other democracies with deficits over 10% of GNP, American leaders may have to make decisions on taxes and spending that were not been preapproved in the last election.