Four years ago, President Barack Obama swept into the presidency in the midst of the worst financial collapse since the Great Depression on an idealistic platform of hope and change.
Somewhere along his challenging path of governance, however, Obama's idealism changed to realism. Hope and change turned into calculated preservation and expansion of the kind of New Deal and Great Society liberalism that had solidified a solid Democratic coalition in the 20th century.
In his first two years, Obama worked with a majority Democratic Congress to regulate financial transactions, dramatically expand the federal government's involvement in health care and directly invest massive federal funds into bailing out the American auto industry.
The 2010 Republican sweep of the House of Representatives represented a backlash against the size, scope and expense of that agenda. But last night's results vindicated Obama's political calculation as the same coalition that propelled him to power four years ago pulled together to re-elect him for four more years.
Exit polling, however, shows a different picture than 2008. Compared to four years ago, Obama lost some of his support among all demographic groups. And although voters personally appreciate him, there is concern about his ability to address our economic challenges.
After the most expensive presidential campaign in history, the collective decision-making of the electorate has given the nation the status quo created in 2010 — a federal government divided between a Republican House of Representatives, a Democratic Senate (likely without a filibuster-proof majority) and a Democratic White House.
By preserving the divided status quo, the electorate has prevented anyone from claiming a mandate. Yesterday's victors should accept the trust returned to them by the people with humility and retrospection. The hard fought campaign is over, and now the work of governing must resume. With a short-term fiscal crisis imminent and a long-term structural fiscal disaster looming, it is time to think pragmatically about how to find common ground upon which the nation can move forward to regain fiscal sanity and economic viability.
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