The votes are cast, most of them have been tallied, and the American experiment lives to see another day. To paraphrase one of the only lines that was any good from Aaron Sorkin’s The Newsroom, “Every two years we drive to a fire station and overthrow the government and there isn’t a policeman in the street.” It’s a beautiful thing and so rare in all of human history. Our structure and our system cannot be lauded enough. For all its many imperfections, it may just be the closest to perfect we can get for self-rule.
Before what many expected to be a good night for Republicans turned into a great night for Republicans, Peggy Noonan shared insight into how both winners and losers could be gracious as we wrap up another election season.
For those who think Mr. Obama has faced unusual levels of rhetoric, consider this question from a reporter to Mr. Bush:
“Thank you, Mr. President. With all due respect, Nancy Pelosi has called you incompetent, a liar, the emperor with no clothes and, as recently as yesterday, dangerous. How will you work with someone who has such little respect for your leadership and who is third in line to the presidency?”
This is how Mr. Bush replied. “I’ve been around politics a long time. I understand when campaigns end and I know when governing begins. And I’m going to work with people of both parties. You know, look, people say unfortunate things at times. But if you hold grudges in this line of work, you’re never going to get anything done. And my intention is to get some things done, and soon—we’re start visiting with her Friday with the idea of coming together.”
That is the sound of political graciousness. It would be nice to hear it from Mr. Obama on Wednesday.
As for the Republicans, if they have as good a Tuesday night as they increasingly expect, it would be nice if they were gracious and big-minded, and a real relief if they didn’t look smug and get that curled smile that says “We got it back, baby, and Harry Reid will soon be out of that pretty office.” Wouldn’t it be nice if they were happy but modest, and made it clear they’re aware of the fix we’re in? “It is not about me and it’s not, my hardworking friends, about you. It’s about this thing we were given called America. It needs our help. So we are happy tonight, but it’s work in the morning, and the kind of work that is the most important, saving our country.”
Or, more pointedly: “I know what this is. It’s the base giving the party one last chance. They are telling us we better do something. That’s the meaning I take. and I mean to come through.”
That is what the GOP should be thinking this morning. Honestly, that is what every elected official of every party should be thinking this morning. That’s what the losing candidates should be thinking as they consider next steps. And, more importantly than all of them, it is what ordinary Americans, you and me, should be thinking. It’s not about our political parties, although that’s important. It’s not about who won and lost, although I believe that is also vitally important.
It’s not about us. It’s about this thing we were given called America. It’s about the responsibilities we have to each other and to the world, as we see historic levels of evil on the move, raping, beheading, and enslaving. It’s about truly caring for the most vulnerable members of our society, both those who are born and those who are unborn.
This means we will have to forego the easy answers that do more about making ourselves feel good and self-righteous than actually empowering those who feel hopeless. It will mean pragmatism and compromise, but not without standing up for principles and truth. It will mean knock down, drag out debates, but hopefully a focus on the ones that truly matter and insisting upon dignity for all, even those we feel argue for the least dignified positions.
If you read all of this reflection as more empty rhetoric about hope and change, then you misread me. The time for talking and wishing away our country’s problems is over. There is real work to do. I hope the 2014 election results show our President that it’s time to get down to business. I pray that the President and the new GOP congressional leadership focus on getting real work down to create economic growth and opportunity for all Americans of every socioeconomic class, race, and community.
Christopher Nolan’s latest masterpiece, Interstellar, is ultimately about hope in the midst of hopelessness. I hope our new elected officials and every single American now realize that hope does not descend from D.C., but must be nourished in our families, neighborhoods, and communities.