Majority less important than ending partisan rigidity

Posted: Tuesday, November 02, 2010

This editorial first appeared in the Dallas Morning News:

What's not yet known is whether Democrats can maintain their hold over the U.S. House and Senate for the next two years, but polls leading into Tuesday's midterm election certainly suggest change is coming. And that could be a good thing for the nation, if the two parties can somehow avoid partisan rigidity.

We suspect Republicans will take over at least one chamber, more likely the House. And even if Democrats keep majorities, they are expected to be much smaller. In either case, neither side will have the votes to ram through its ideas unilaterally. Either party will need buy-in from the other side, or America will endure legislative gridlock until 2012.

Unfortunately, both sides are running for office as if they won't need the other after the election. President Barack Obama has dropped his 2008 talk of bipartisanship and is preaching how Americans can't let Republicans return to power with what he considers bad ideas. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said that, if given control of at least part of Congress, the Republicans' No. 1 goal would be to make Obama a one-term president.

Such is the state of partisanship in Washington. A Washington Post survey this month showed partisanship is at its greatest frenzy in a decade.

But fear and loathing of the other party won't do the country much good when you consider that the financial markets are watching closely to see whether we tackle our deficit and debt problems. Or when you remember that Social Security and Medicare face dates with bankruptcy. Or when you consider the immigration problems that besiege local communities.

Those problems, among many, need solutions before 2012, which is why we hope each party's calmer heads assert themselves after this vote.

Republicans, for example, are running as the party against government, a popular position in these tea party times. But will they ask their constituents to endure changes to popular programs like Social Security to help bring down the deficit?

Conversely, are Democrats prepared to rethink their approach? They've become the party of government at a time the public is clearly less interested in expanding government. Will Democrats return to the Clinton-era playbook, where the formula leaned toward balancing the budget, expanding trade and considering alternative solutions to social problems?

Encouragingly, Sen. Mark Warner, a Virginia Democrat, and Sen. Saxby Chambliss, a Georgia Republican, already have formed a group to fight for the ideas the presidential debt-reduction panel will present to Congress after the election. We will know who's sincere when party leaders start accepting reforms that cause their faithful to squirm. For Democrats, that means allowing deep spending cuts. For Republicans, that means accepting some tax increases.

After Tuesday, Washington's landscape almost surely will look different. The question: Will each party think about the greater good? We all have plenty riding on them looking beyond themselves.


• Americans have a more negative view of government than a decade ago.

• About half of Americans believe the government threatens their personal liberties.

• More than half of Americans blame the government for putting America on the wrong track.

Yes, but ...

• Most Americans still like Social Security and Medicare.

• Most Americans want government involved in education and the environment.

• Most Americans still believe we have the best system of government.

Source: A study by The Washington Post, the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation and Harvard University, published Oct. 10.

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