WASHINGTON — Despite conservative efforts to minimize the dimensions and meaning of President Barack Obama's re-election, it is in fact a mandate that demands respect. At the same time, the Republican claim to a "counter-mandate" based on their holding onto a thin majority in the House of Representatives doesn't hold up.
Therefore, in the best political traditions of our country, and in the patriotic interest of getting things done again in Washington after four years of partisan gridlock, the GOP House leadership must finally begin to compromise and cooperate with the White House.
President Obama's triumph was a significant achievement. Recent history has made re-election seem like the norm, but fewer than half of our presidents have won two elections. President Obama's re-election margin of victory — in both the popular vote and Electoral College — was greater than his immediate predecessor, George W. Bush, who claimed a mandate with the enthusiastic approval of the same conservative voices now trying to deny one to the current president.
Meanwhile, House Republicans — while holding the majority — saw their ranks thinned and received a million fewer votes than their Democratic opponents. Over in the Senate, Democrats expanded their majority in a year they were almost universally expected to lose it.
From the perspective of governing, what's more important than which candidates won is which ideas prevailed.
One reason President Obama beat the odds by winning re-election in the face of an unemployment rate near 8 percent — and Senate Democrats pulled off their electoral surprise — is the American people liked their ideas for the future better than what was offered by the Republicans.
Among those ideas are reducing our federal budget deficits through a balanced approach that includes higher taxes on the wealthy; reforming our broken immigration system in a way that recognizes the blameless and rewards good behavior, pursuing dynamic but thoughtful foreign and military policies.
On the fiscal front, House Republicans must drop their intransigent resistance to higher tax rates on our most fortunate households as part of an overall response to our national debt problem.
In deals struck last year, President Obama has already agreed to more than a trillion dollars in spending cuts over the next decade. Now, the spirit of compromise requires that Speaker John Boehner put a realistic revenue increase on the table.
The Republican plan to "close loopholes" would not raise enough money. Election Day polling found that 60 percent of Americans want higher taxes on the wealthy to be part of any "grand bargain" on the budget.
For both political and policy reasons, House Republicans have an incentive to replace their purely punitive approach to immigration with a constructive, comprehensive one.
A good place to start is with young undocumented immigrants, brought here by their parents and deeply woven into the American fabric. Giving them a chance to participate more fully in our society — through education and work — is a boon to them and to their adopted nation.
How to deal with our friends and adversaries across the globe, and how to expand marriage rights in a way that's sensitive to all elements of our society, are delicate topics that can only benefit from a GOP House working with, rather than resisting, a Democratic administration.
Every democracy needs a loyal opposition, and no one demands a Republican House majority that accedes to every wish of the White House.
Out of ideological conflict there can be better policy — but only if the ultimate aim is a compromise solution. The recent election results clearly indicate the American people want a GOP that doesn't reflexively work against our newly-re-elected president, but instead works in principled cooperation with him.
Don Kusler is executive director of Americans for Democratic Action, a liberal advocacy organization.
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