The restive American electorate has once again expressed its clear preference for divided government, i.e., a national government where one political party does not dominate both legislative and executive functions.
Peering into the next two years of divided party control of the federal government, there is understandable concern that partisan brinkmanship will rule the day. The normal punditry would have us believe that the "middle" has been decimated among our elected congressional representatives. Centrist "blue dog" Democrats from conservative districts were among the biggest losers to the Republican wave, and much of the Republican surge came from the putatively uncompromising tea party.
Moreover, in the run-up to the election, congressional leaders weren't talking about conciliation. For example, in a recent National Journal interview, Sen. Mitch McConnell expressed that Republicans have learned from their 1994-96 experience. The lesson? That they should not provide comfort to a Democratic president as they did with Clinton on issues like welfare reform because the single most important thing for Republican legislators to accomplish in the next two years, according to McConnell, is "for President Obama to be a one-term president."
But is that precisely what voters have asked for? As large numbers of independent voters swing from the Democrats to the Republicans, we think that they are looking for genuine solutions, not gridlock.
With all the idealism and zeal that freshman legislators take with them to Washington in January, they should also carry with them a zealous regard for dispatching the public's business with a focus on meaningful solutions to our nation's systemic long-term challenges.
In the most recent British elections, the result was a deadlock not unlike the kind of divided party government we are now looking at. The electoral deadlock forced the creation of a coalition government between the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats. The history of British coalitions has been rather pathetic as ideologically unaligned partners have been more interested in one-upmanship than governance.
But this time around, the Brits have actually worked from the political center to address the pressing problem of a stagnant economy and unsustainable government debt. The results have surpassed all expectations. Instead of gridlock, the Cameron-Clegg government has energetically addressed Britain's enormous deficit through unprecedented spending cuts, bold entitlement reforms and modest tax increases. Fears that this austerity would stall a tentative economic recovery have so far been baseless as economic growth has accelerated.
We acknowledge that there are critically important differences between the British parliamentary system and our own. But the nature of their substantive long-term problems and the kind of sober statesmanship required to address those issues with seriousness and resolve are identical.
The pitched partisan battles of the election are over. We trust that the rhetoric of brinkmanship can be set aside as our representatives now reveal their much-needed talents as statesmen to solve the serious problems facing our nation.