The 2012 elections are finally over. Many will say "good riddance" -- at least to the end of negative advertising that seemed to fill the airwaves for the last several months.|
The dreadful 2010 Supreme Court Citizen's United case unleashed the expected flood of money into politics. This disrupted many of our lives with a long litany of misleading ads that seemed at times to transform a quiet evening's entertainment in front of the television into a ringside seat at a WWF smackdown.
But what positive light did the election shed on our national state of mind? With somewhat conflicting results at the local and national levels, it could be a little confusing. Consider locally that the Rock Island County Board retained its strong Democratic majority. Yet a resolution to shrink the board size from 25 to 15 -- promoted largely by Republicans -- passed by a healthy margin.
At the national level it was also a very good night for Democrats -- reelecting President Obama and increasing the Democratic majority in the Senate. Yet the GOP retained, with a somewhat diminished majority, control of the House.
What does this mean? What reasonable conclusions can we draw from this seeming mix of messages?
First of all, it seems clear that the public is strongly divided on a range of issues -- from the size and role of government, to who we trust to grow the economy and lead us in the right direction. A majority appears to favor the principle that government should play a leading role in working with business and labor to steer us toward better days. This will include investments in needed infrastructure, like the Interstate 74 bridge and passenger rail service locally; as well as reasonable regulations to prevent marketplace meltdowns like we saw in 2008. Many likewise feel government should be run efficiently and should avoid waste. Hence, perhaps, the local vote to shrink the county board from 25 to 15 members.
With a divided electorate, the second important message from the election is a call to greater civility and shared sacrifice. By reelecting a Congress that has one house controlled by each political party, compromise will be indispensable to governing effectively.
What's more, with the defeat of many Tea Party candidates from Maine to Montana, the public gave a resounding rejection to the idea espoused by some in this movement that compromise is somehow a dirty word and that obstructionism is a virtue.
A wise person once noted that "politics is the art of compromise."
Compromise doesn't mean that we don't have political or social values. Instead, it suggests that we recognize that other people, often of differing backgrounds and perspectives, can have good ideas too. It also recognizes that we all benefit when we try to work together to come up with solutions to address the challenges we face -- economically, environmentally, and socially -- instead of just digging in our heels and stonewalling action.
This, in turn, leads to a renewed call to shared sacrifice. No one individual or group should be expected to do it all. Instead each of us will have to do our part. From higher taxes being paid by the wealthy, to larger co-pays from public sector employees for their pensions, to being prepared to pay for the government benefits or programs we want; we all have to be prepared to carry our share of the load.
This is what has always marked America's greatness: the willingness to sacrifice within our abilities for the common good. Our ancestors rose to the occasion when faced with challenges as great as any we confront today. Now it's our turn.
Elected officials are seldom much better or worse than we the voters allow them to be. With the election over, may our elected officials extend to us the challenge by coming up with policies and opportunities that will call on each of us to do our part. And may we respond to this challenge with a willingness -- in Lincoln's words -- "to think anew and act anew," to build on our country's greatness with a spirit of shared sacrifice that will ultimately benefit us all.
Mark W. Schwiebert, an attorney, served as mayor of Rock Island for 20 years.
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