One na­tion, di­vis­i­ble

The Washington Times Weekly - - Editorials -

In the days lead­ing up to the pres­i­den­tial elec­tion, ex­pec­ta­tion games were in full swing on both sides of the po­lit­i­cal spec­trum. Each group of par­ti­san sup­port­ers pointed to fa­vor­able polls, bran­dished win­ning elec­toral mod­els and pre­dicted ei­ther nar­row vic­tory or land­slide. It was as though they were de­scrib­ing two dif­fer­ent elec­tions in two dif­fer­ent coun­tries. In some re­spects, they were.

Amer­ica is ex­pe­ri­enc­ing a hard­en­ing of ide­o­log­i­cal cat­e­gories. Republicans are be­com­ing more con­ser­va­tive and Democrats more lib­eral. Cross­over vot­ing is prac­ti­cally nonex­is­tent. Par­ti­sans vote their tick­ets, leav­ing the shrink­ing cen­ter to de­cide the race. Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, for­mer chief of staff of the Obama White House, said the elec­tion would be de­cided in “five states and 500 precincts,” and it may have been even fewer. The rest of the coun­try was es­sen­tially ir­rel­e­vant and is di­vided be­tween re­lieved win­ners and losers nurs­ing a grudge.

This is the char­ac­ter of con­tem­po­rary Amer­i­can pol­i­tics, a cease­less war for supremacy with no quar­ter asked or given. Barack Obama and Ge­orge W. Bush stand as the most di­vi­sive pres­i­dents in re­cent his­tory.

Congress is more po­lar­ized now than at any time since the years af­ter the Civil War.

The Supreme Court is split into blocks that dis­agree even over the fun­da­men­tal mat­ter of con­sti­tu­tional in­ter­pre­ta­tion.

The frac­tured gov­ern­ment is the prod­uct of a di­vided so­ci­ety. The United States is pop­u­lated by groups of peo­ple who may as well be liv­ing in dif­fer­ent coun­tries. They have sep­a­rate his­to­ries, cul­tures and vi­sions for the fu­ture. They are two dis­tinct na­tion­al­i­ties, di­vided by mu­tual dis­trust and joined by mam­moth pub­lic debt.

Com­pro­mise has be­come a dirty word in pol­i­tics, but it’s im­per­a­tive to em­brace this value if the gov­ern­ment is to func­tion as it was in­tended. Com­pro­mise is the foun­da­tion of the U.S. Con­sti­tu­tion.

Checks and balances are in­cor­po­rated in ev­ery facet of the doc­u­ment. The ge­nius of the Founders was their in­sis­tence that many in­ter­ests be bal­anced in the course of gov­ern­ing.

They had lit­tle faith in univer­sal the­o­ries of pub­lic good and even less in the power of flawed hu­mans to erect flaw­less so­ci­eties. The more the utopian spirit dom­i­nates pol­i­tics, the less will get done and the more prob­lems will ac­cu­mu­late.

A suc­cess­ful pres­i­dent must mas­ter the art of the deal. All of the hard is­sues that were shunted off un­til af­ter the elec­tion — bud­get se­ques­tra­tion, taxes and the debt limit — will come due soon. The ex­ec­u­tive and leg­isla­tive branches must work to­gether to stave off the ap­proach­ing fis­cal train wreck. This will re­quire a de­gree of lead­er­ship the coun­try hasn’t seen in many years.

A pres­i­dent who be­lieves his man­date is to find ways around Congress is trag­i­cally mis­taken. A White House that closes it­self off from le­git­i­mate criticism has con­ceded its own im­po­tence. A head of state who thinks it is his pre­rog­a­tive to im­pose his will by ex­ec­u­tive or­der will only di­vide the coun­try fur­ther. Amer­ica has cho­sen a leader; it re­mains to be seen if he can and will truly lead.

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