Kevin is a junior majoring in Economics & History with a minor in Engineering Management. Born and raised in Colorado, Kevin has worked as an intern at the Denver Zoo and in the municipal bond industry. In addition to being a member of the Editorial Board, he is also an active member and Treasurer for Vanderbilt Best Buddies, a group that facilitates one-to-one friendships with college students and individuals with developmental disabilities. Though he has always had a fascination with politics, this is Kevin’s first year writing for the Vanderbilt Political Review.
November 7th has many tidings of the day-after-Christmas this election year. After months of anticipation, advertisements, and activity, the election is finally over with Barack Obama winning 303 electoral votes to Mitt Romney’s 206. Over the next few weeks, there will be some frenzied analysis as Republicans try to piece together what happened and Democrats bask in the glow of an impressive Obama victory. However, the victory is not totally vindicating for the Democrats, or for that matter America. After over a year on the campaign trail and billions of dollars in campaign money, America returns to the same status quo of 2010: a Democratic President and a split Congress. Our dysfunctional governmental family survived another election season.
Over the course of Obama’s second term, there will be challenges that shape his legacy and his effectiveness as president. Looming on the horizon is the dreaded fiscal cliff, when tax cuts expire on Americans and automatic spending cuts go into effect. How Obama handles this situation will greatly determine how Democrats and Republicans will interact until the 2014 elections. If Obama wants to achieve any of his objectives over the next two years, he is going to have to consensus build with his Republican Congressional foes. Since Obama holds the position of power, Obama is also in the position to give. Thus, it would be wise for Obama to exercise clear leadership and offer the olive branch to Republicans through adopting some of their core issues.
The hubris of Obama in his first term was that he did not attempt to build this consensus early. With an overriding majority, Obama and the other Democrats sought healthcare reform with a singular drive passing it without any Republican support. For comparison, George W. Bush, who also had a super majority when he arrived in Washington, sought bipartisan rule. One of Bush’s first major agenda items was in education through The No Child Left Behind Act. The bill passed with wide bipartisan support with a vote of 385-45 in the House and 91-8 in the Senate. At its inception the bill was extremely popular. And who was the Democratic Senator sponsor of the bill? None other than Ted Kennedy, the Lion of the Senate himself. Bush had to reach across the aisle coming off of Bush V. Gore. However, an examination of his record, specifically as governor, reveals many cases of successful bipartisan initiatives.   The moral of George Bush’s term is that if the president wants to pass major social legislation, coalitions from both parties are necessary. Presidents need to craft policy that is agreeable to both parties, and capture some of their fiercest legislative opponents as allies, even if at times that means placating them.
Presidents do not always need to ride the fence. They can still take on bold, partisan initiatives. However, Congress is a game; a subtle back-and-forth of ever changing political capital. Arguably, much of the fallout of Obama’s first term was reactionary to the strictly partisan Healthcare Bill. The objective for President Obama in his second term should be to not squander his new political capital from the election again.
It takes two to tango, and in the 113th United States Congress, Obama may find more receptive Republican legislators on some issues. For the Republicans, this election should have been a wake up call. By now, the need to modernize their principals and move towards the center on social issues is evident. One of the demographics Obama was able to capture most handily in the past election was women . Obama was able to win these votes through his stances, record, and winning the perception war. Republicans must adopt more progressive views on women’s health and not let the positions they do take be framed by the Democrats. Additionally, the Republicans are going to need to re-up on their ground game and their efforts to win over minorities, specifically Hispanics who went 71% for Obama according to exit polls . America is now entering an age of majority minority status. That is to say that no single ethnic group constitutes 50% of the population. As such, it will be necessary for the Republicans to broaden their base and bring a more diverse array of voters into the GOP fold.
The days of the Tea Party are drawing to a close. Many analysts, like Matthew Continetti, from The Weekly Standard, have cited candidate selection as one of the woes of the Republican Party . They have argued that had Republicans chosen more moderate candidates over the last two cycles for senate seats, the GOP could now control the chamber. With only 100 seats, and a third of them in play any year, the choice of one bad candidate can be devastating to a party’s agenda. The Republicans have embodied the definition of insanity (doing the same thing over and over again while expecting different results) not twice, but arguably six times in the last two cycles.  For the sake of party relevancy and survival, the Republicans need to quell the rancorous fringe elements of the party in the nomination process.
In his concession speech, Mitt Romney called politicians to move towards bipartisanship urging “Democrats and Republicans in government at all levels to put the people before the politics.“  Obama echoed this sentiment in his victory speech, promising “In the weeks ahead … to sitting down with Gov. Romney to talk about where we can work together to move this country forward.”  So on this, the day after the election, let us hope that our politicians can come together and finally practice the bipartisanship they espoused during the campaigns.
[Photo Credit: http://inotternews.com/?tag=elephant]