Hope springs quadrennially after every presidential election.
Americans are naturally optimistic (although you wouldn't know it from listening to most of our politicians). For a while after the winner has gracefully accepted the loser's traditional phone call to concede, they allow themselves to believe that this time will be different, that the nation has moved on to something better than politics as usual.
Republican Mitt Romney, in his concession speech, told his supporters: "The nation, as you know, is at a critical point, and at a time like this we can't risk partisan bickering and political posturing. Our leaders have to reach across the aisle to do the people's work."
It was as if the charges that Obama was a socialist, who apologized for America on bended knees, who was over his head in the job and wedded to policies of proven failure had never been made.
In his acceptance speech, Obama said that he and Romney had "battled fiercely" — an understatement if there ever was one — "but it's only because we love this country deeply." As if Romney had never run a series of nasty and dishonest ads accusing Obama of shipping manufacturing of the iconic American Jeep overseas. Obama offered to meet with Romney to discuss how the leaders of both parties could work together to solve the nation's problems.
Indeed, the brief alliance between Obama and Romney's gruff surrogate, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, over Superstorm Sandy gave us a tantalizing glimpse of how that bipartisanship might work.
But the president's offer surely was purely symbolic. As a practical matter, Romney is a dead man walking in his own party. He lost the GOP's best-funded effort to take the White House from a man who by every traditional political statistical measure was doomed to lose it.
Younger, ambitious Republican pols, like Romney running mate Paul Ryan, are already positioning themselves for 2016. Romney is in no position to broker any kind of compromise over the heads of the party's true leaders, House Speaker John Boehner, the most important politician in Washington outside of Obama himself, and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, who conspicuously failed in his single goal of making Obama a one-term president.
Those two spent four years kicking Obama and deliberately thwarting his programs. Now that he will never run again, Obama is free to kick back.
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When members of Congress return to Washington next week, for a few fleeting milliseconds they may allow themselves to think that maybe the problems they left behind might have been solved in their absence.
But still looming is the "fiscal cliff" of tax increases and automatic budget cuts, largely of the GOP's doing, and Obama is in position to wield considerable influence simply by doing nothing.
Hope truly does spring quadrennially in Washington, but it takes only a week or so for reality to set in.