The election results could encourage the bipartisan cooperation we need to solve our country’s greatest challenges.
Today we re-consecrate our country to long-cherished ideals in a suddenly changed civilization. In every land there are always at work forces that drive men apart and forces that draw men together. In our personal ambitions we are individualists. But in our seeking for economic and political progress as a nation, we all go up, or else we all go down, as one people.—Franklin D. Roosevelt, 1937
Tonight, more than 200 years after a former colony won the right to determine its own destiny, the task of perfecting our union moves forward. It moves forward because of you. It moves forward because you reaffirmed the spirit that has triumphed over war and depression, the spirit that has lifted this country from the depths of despair to the great heights of hope, the belief that while each of us will pursue our own individual dreams, we are an American family and we rise or fall together as one nation and as one people.—Barack Obama, 2012
With the 2012 election now over and President Obama returning to the White House, many Americans are asking themselves, will the next four years be any different? Or will we see more of the same gridlock, bickering, and obstructionism that so dominated the Washington political landscape of the past few years? Much will depend, of course, on the temper of the Congress, where the Republicans still hold a majority in the House of Representatives and where, despite their minority status in the Senate, Republicans can still use the filibuster to block or delay the president’s—and the country’s—agenda.
It was roughly two years ago that Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell famously remarked that “the single most important thing” the Republican Party wanted to achieve “is for President Obama to be a one-term president.” But now that the Republicans have failed in this effort one would hope that the party leadership would be more willing to work with—rather than against—the president and his Democratic colleagues.
Certainly the American public would welcome such a move, and thanks to the recent behavior of Governor Chris Christie of New Jersey and Governor Andrew Cuomo of New York, we now have a precedent upon which such a bi-partisan spirit might be built. For most Americans, Republican Governor Christie’s willingness to “extend the hand of friendship” to the President and “to say ‘thank you sir,’ for providing good leadership in a crisis and for helping the people of New Jersey” was a long overdue antidote to the harsh negativity of today’s “political discourse.”
Moreover, the same might be said for Governor Cuomo, who, despite his status as New York’s governor and leading Democrat, took the highly unusual step of endorsing Republican State Senator Stephen Saland’s bid for re-election thanks to the latter’s decision to support the governor’s legislation legalizing same-sex marriage last year. Senator Saland’s decision to vote in favor of the bill, in what he said was a personal vote of conscience, was not popular among his party’s right wing. So the governor, in a move he said was motivated in part by his desire to counter “extremists on both sides of the aisle,” came out strongly in favor of Saland, much to the chagrin of the senator’s Democratic opponent. (The winner in that race has yet to be called at this time.)
Like Governor’s Christie’s willingness to work with President Obama to meet the crisis caused by Hurricane Sandy, Governor Cuomo’s willingness to work with Republican legislators in Albany has been enormously popular among the New York electorate, where he has consistently enjoyed an approval rating of roughly 70 percent. Given all of this, and given the extremely low regard most Americans hold for Congress, one would hope that these examples of bi-partisan cooperation might prove infectious and that our representatives in Congress might summon the courage to work together to meet the enormous challenges we face today.
Nearly 80 years ago, at a time when our nation faced an even graver economic crisis, Franklin Roosevelt reminded those who were concerned “with the problems of government and economics” to never forget that “devotion to the public good, unselfish service, never-ending consideration of human needs are in themselves conquering forces.”
We expect this sort of devotion in the face of natural disasters like Hurricane Sandy, but is it too much to expect the same “consideration of human needs” in the face of the economic disaster we are grappling with today? If government can and must play a major role in rebuilding areas ravaged by nature’s fury why shouldn’t the same government do more to help those American citizens ravaged by the scourge of unemployment?
Last night in his acceptance speech, President Obama echoed Roosevelt’s first inaugural when he noted that the American people “voted for action, not politics as usual.” While the Speaker of the Republican-controlled House, John Boehner, remarked that the election represented “a mandate for both parties to find common ground and take steps together to help our economy grow and create jobs.”
After years of partisan gridlock, the American people are hungry for that elusive but all-important quality they expect from their elected officials and which was on rare display for a brief moment as a president and a governor from different parties came together in a moment of compassion for those suffering hardship through no fault of their own. That quality is called leadership. Let us hope that the moment has finally arrived when those we have placed in positions of power, both in the White House and in Congress, will now have the courage to exercise it.
David Woolner is a Senior Fellow and Hyde Park Resident Historian for the Roosevelt Institute. He is currently writing a book entitled Cordell Hull, Anthony Eden and the Search for Anglo-American Cooperation, 1933-1938.