In our opinion: Governing through mutual respect and judicious compromise

Published: Sunday, Nov. 4 2012 12:00 a.m. MDT

President Barack Obama is greeted by New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie upon his arrival at Atlantic City International Airport, Wednesday, Oct. 31, 2012, in Atlantic City, NJ. Obama traveled to region to take an aerial tour of the Atlantic Coast in New Jersey in areas damaged by superstorm Sandy.

Associated Press

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In his keynote address to the Republican National Convention this year, GOP Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey criticized President Barack Obama's "absentee leadership in the Oval Office." But Christie also demanded "that our leaders stop tearing each other down and work together to take action on the big things facing America." He urged Americans "to choose respect over love."

In the aftermath of hurricane Sandy, Christie acted on the admonition he gave at the convention by graciously welcoming the president of the United States to New Jersey in order to observe conditions and counsel together about the joint federal and state response to the hurricane's devastation.

By trading in criticism for respect and partisanship for pragmatism, Christie has raised eyebrows. Given that the man Christie welcomed and worked with last week is also his rival party's contender for the presidency in this week's election, some are questioning Christie's loyalties, motivations and judgment. So much so, in fact, that Christie felt it necessary to defend his willingness to work with the president. Apparently, pundits are asking if Christie's public acknowledgment of a job well done could turn a close election.

Given how rare it is these days, we understand a sense of surprise at a display of bipartisan cooperation. But to openly question motive because there is straightforward cooperation and respect between the two chief executive officers who share responsibility to coordinate the governmental response to New Jersey's worst natural disaster makes for sad commentary on the state of our politics.

The reality is that the only way to address what Christie last August called "the big things facing America" will be through mutual respect and judicious compromise.

Even before all the ballots are tallied on Tuesday, we feel confident in saying this much about the outcome of this week's presidential election: the winner will not have a mandate. This closely contested presidential election should teach all of us that the republic is divided by rival visions of how to foster the American dream.

Nonetheless, Americans overwhelmingly agree that it is time to make progress through compromise. Last June, 80 percent of a representative sample of Americans told the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press they "like political leaders who are willing to make compromises in order to get the job done."

And there are plenty of jobs to be done, jobs where immediate progress is needed.

Perhaps the first is rebalancing of federal finances. Sober-minded politicians of both parties agree that government spending and debt are out of whack with economic reality, demographic patterns and with future-oriented priorities. The next president and Congress will not get that job done by coming to the table with animosity, ideology and ultimatums.

Statesmen can remain true to their principles while finding significant common ground to address the nation's difficult fiscal challenges.

Equally critical is getting the American economy growing. It appears that there is finally a slow climb out of the Great Recession. The current pace of growth, however, is not enough to press against headwinds from a slowing global economy. The private sector has done heavy lifting since the recession by cleaning up balance sheets and improving productivity. Through technological savvy, the country has achieved greater energy independence and manufacturing competitiveness. But businesses that might otherwise be eager to invest in growth continue to face almost paralyzing uncertainty about regulation and taxation.

Cool heads from both sides of the aisle can surely agree to simplification of our tax and regulatory codes that will ease the cost of compliance without sacrificing safety, health or revenue.

A slow-moving fiscal hurricane is headed our direction. But unlike nature's wrath, this storm is entirely man-made and entirely avoidable. The collective decisions of voters and politicians, acting on the basis of the demography and economics of an earlier era, have left expensive bills that are coming due. The nation has a moral obligation to pay its commitments. It also has a moral obligation to see that future commitments can be met based on current demographics and finances.

Regardless of who wins, the solutions to our biggest problems will materialize when there is enough mutual respect to once again cooperate. Our hope is that such needed cooperation will not raise skeptical eyebrows but instead raise genuine hope for a more economically secure and prosperous America.

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