Greensburg Daily News, Greensburg, IN

November 14, 2012

An opportunity for national leadership

Nathan Harter
Greensburg Daily News

Greensburg — By now, just about every angle of the 2012 presidential election has already been considered.

Pundits argue about why the loser lost, forgetting that it was a close-run thing, hardly the seismic shift requiring a fundamental re-thinking of the Republican identity.

One of the motives for rushing to explain what happened is to clarify what the winners should do next. What message did the voters send to them? It is by no means clear. Neither party received a resounding mandate. In the absence of direction from the voters, the winners will simply have to exercise leadership.

Few experts deny that the country faces extraordinary threats to its financial well-being. The candidates did not even try to disguise the scope of the problem; instead, they proposed different ways to solve it. And now, voters have sent them back to Washington with mixed signals.

Either side could claim that the election affirms them in their position. Yet representatives of each party have made noises about working together and finding a way out of the morass. We will see. In the meantime, my Human Resources office has notified me about the extent to which my taxes will rise in January if Congress does nothing.

Many of my own compatriots reacted to Obama’s election as confirmation that there is no solution, but if there had been one, the voters more or less told Obama to drive the bus over the cliff. I don’t think anybody thought that consciously. I do think plenty of voters do not really understand the financial situation. Again, politicians are now responsible for exerting leadership.

If either side capitulates completely and gives in to the other side without gaining anything in return, a lot of officeholders will lose their jobs next time. They have to win something for their constituencies. By the same token, if either side digs in, even if they allege it’s a matter of principle, and refuses to budge one inch, then what hope is there of resolution?

Right now, as President Obama contemplates his legacy, he might reflect on the fact that Richard Nixon – yes, Richard Nixon – went to China. Only a red-baiting McCarthyistic Cold Warrior could have pulled it off. He had established his bona fides earlier.  That gave him the room to do something contrary to type. In a tattered tenure, this was possibly his finest moment.

Perhaps now, without a clear mandate to do much of anything in particular, the president might exercise leadership by working against type, disavowing the sacred cows on the left, showing that he can rise above ideology. It won’t hurt his re-election. And if he does it soon, the sense of betrayal on the left will dissipate later anyway.

It is an ancient lesson from Daoism that the sooner you confront a problem, the easier the work to prevent or resolve it. Nip it in the bud. Get in front of it. Don’t wait for a crisis. It is my hope, based on very little evidence, that the leadership on both sides will finally act like leaders. Call it faith.