COMMENTARY | COLUMNISTS | GEORGE HAWKINS

Political dust has settled; time for leadership

Judging by the rhetoric that has been almost constant for the last month, we know who was elected or re-elected to public office. What those elected don’t seem to know is who won.

Republicans say they did because they retained control of the House of Representatives.

Democrats say they won because they kept a majority in the Senate.

The president says he won because, well, he did.

There were approximately 215 million people eligible to vote in 2012. Less than 60 percent took the time to mark their ballots for either Barack Obama or Mitt Romney. While some of the remaining 40 percent may have voted for another candidate or perhaps scrawled none of the above, it is a good bet that most of that 40 percent who could vote, did not.

Maybe they were too busy to take 30 minutes to make a decision, didn’t care, couldn’t decide or figured their vote would make no difference.

Whatever the reason, no candidate obtained a majority of the votes that could have been cast. The president received support from about 30 percent of those eligible to make their opinions known in the voting booth. Romney got about 28 percent. Those figures decided the election but are hardly decisive.

Even the states that fall into the red or blue designations, the ones commentators identify by color, were divided. Twenty-six states and the District of Columbia had majorities for Obama. More than half of those who voted in each of the remaining 24 chose Romney.

The U.S. Senate will have just about the same political make up it had before the election. That is also true of the House of Representatives.

This country’s federal government remains a divided one, reflecting both the apathy expressed by 40 percent of the eligible voters and the clear differences of opinion expressed by those who did cast ballots for president.

Many of the pronouncements made during the so-called fiscal cliff clash also appear to be seriously suspect. Once the senate signed onto the hasty agreement one member of the house said “The American people want” the house to vote in favor of the deal. How can he possibly know that?

Clearly, the less than definitive mandate says the American people don’t know what they want or need.

Similarly, those on the far right in the House of Representatives make claims of their own. They say they were elected with a clear instruction; that is, to oppose new taxes, work to limit government and reduce spending. While that may be true of the tea party conservatives, not enough of them won election to carry the day. Since all 435 seats were subject to consideration it is hard to claim any point of view is what Americans want.

Two huge economic questions remain on the horizon. One involves sequestration, something everyone agrees was a draconian proposal to cut spending intended to force compromise by all parties. The other is the debt limit.

Secretary of the Treasury Timothy Geithner says Congress is just days away from having to deal with the debt limit. Failure to raise the borrowing cap could cause the United States to default on its massive number of IOUs, something it is likely few of those elected to Congress want.

The president says he will negotiate on some things, just not the debt limit. That, he says, is not negotiable and is consistent with an earlier demand by him that any fence across the fiscal cliff include a provision that he no longer need congressional approval to borrow more money.

The president didn’t get that provision. Further, the election results and the competing and diverse beliefs on what is the best path for this country, almost all of them substantiated as legitimate by some portion of the electorate, demand he negotiate. Of equal import, had he been elected with a majority of those eligible to vote supporting him rather than a paltry 30 percent, the title he collected was president, not king.

Who won or lost is not what these economic decisions are about. The election results force that conclusion.

Now, leadership and compromise are the orders of the day. Failing that, everyone loses.

Hawkins is retired after 35 years as a construction industry association manager. He was a broadcast reporter and news anchor in Denver. As a Navy officer, he saw action in Vietnam in the River Assault Squadrons and is the recipient of a Silver Star and Purple Heart. He can be reached at george.hawkins@sddt.com.

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