As expected, the days following last week’s presidential election brought statements of unity, bipartisanship and working together to move the country forward.
But after the political climate of recent years — particularly in highly prized Fairfax County, where candidates again pumped millions of dollars into negative campaign ads — these oft-repeated statements ring hollow.
It seems that no matter who wins these days, the opposing party begins “a government in exile” obstructionist movement, attacking the sitting president with an avarice we just wouldn’t have seen in the past.
It’s OK to get tough in an election. It proves you care. But once the ballots are counted, we as Americans need to return to work — and return to a tradition of supporting our elected officials whether they were who we voted for or not.
With that in mind, here’s a wish list for the next election, both the presidential in 2016 and next year’s statewide races.
MORE RESPECT: Elections in the past got as ugly as they do today, but there was more respect for the office once the election was over. Whether you agreed with their policies or not, we don’t recall the ongoing “party in exile” treatment of a sitting president during the Reagan or Carter presidencies.
LESS MONEY: The 2012 election is likely to be remembered as the most expensive campaign ever. Some estimates are putting fundraising on the presidential race alone at more than $6 billion between the candidates, the parties and outside groups. This doesn’t even address the money spent on Congressional races. This seems outrageous considering the current economic climate and the good these funds could do if turned toward debt payments, social programs or investment in business and new technologies. The Citizens United Supreme Court ruling opened the floodgates — and while political contributions have always been a part of U.S. politics, never has fundraising gone through so many large super-PACS and undisclosed donations. Whatever the final resolution, Congress has to address campaign funding in a way so it remains fair and transparent.
LESS GAFFES: More so than in prior years, the 2012 presidential election (along with several Congressional races) was highlighted by gaffes, unfortunate comments and phrasings that were played and replayed whether the statement was in or out of context. These types of statements occur — particularly when candidates are being followed by the national press 24 hours per day, seven days per week. These foot-in-the-mouth moments were covered — and appreciated — but they served as a break from more serious examination of the issues. Slogans ran wild this year, often overshadowing the campaign itself. The candidates were forced to explain offhand comments like Mitt Romney’s “47 percent” remark and the president’s “you didn’t build that” comment so frequently that we often weren’t treated to the actual policies behind the campaign.
MORE PLAN: Everyone understands that things change, and even simple issues become more complex in office. However, it would be nice to see more plan and less rhetoric. Neither Romney nor Obama issued as solid a plan for governing as most voters would have liked. Instead, we were left with statements and policy ideas with too much gray area. And it’s that gray that left political pundits with arguments about how the numbers might add up and which figure is right.
MORE ISSUES: In addition to some depth to these policy positions, it also appears that the number of issues being discussed has been shrinking. Certainly the economy is the most important issue this year (and probably every year), but that doesn’t make these secondary issues less important. Republican candidates were less verbose about social issues than in years prior, but if they do fall into their platform than issues like abortion, gay rights, gun control and privacy should be addressed more clearly. We also saw less attention on issues like poverty, campaign reform, immigration and funding for programs like NASA than one would expect.
MORE BIPARTISANSHIP: Independents and moderates want to see their representatives working together after election — finding common ground and moving the country forward. That’s what we elected them for. For some reason, compromise has been a dirty word in politics for the last few years with party insiders seeing it as weak or a betrayal of values. It’s true that not every issue has a middle ground, but problem solving and independent thinking is how the various candidates have been selling themselves to voters. Elections are important — incredibly so. But in the end, campaigning well is less important than governing well.
Whether we like it or not, the country looks at the party leaders and the candidates at the head of the ticket as an example of how to behave. Perhaps a little more civility and substance at the top could filter down to the party loyalists of both parties.