Editorial: The election is over, but now what?

Editorial Board

Voting day is finished. Even before the dust settles, political analysts and operatives, and politicians themselves will undoubtedly begin to assess and spin the wreckage and statistics in a wild attempt to make sense of it.

For many of us, voting is our only form of political participation. Whether you show up once every two (or four) years to get your “I voted” sticker or write letters, attend conferences, host campaign events and the like, voting is decision time. That moment when you blacken the bubble next to your candidate’s name is the culmination of all your blood, toil, tears and sweat, no matter how much or how little you have given.

But voting is a culmination of political activity only in the sense that it is the highest point of it. It is not the end.

The work and business of politics begin, rather than end, with an election. Barack Obama and Mitt Romney and all the others have spent the last year or two talking to us, the mass of voters. They have visited our towns and businesses, given speeches, shaken hands, kissed babies, and such. Now that we have either confirmed them in office or given them their first chance to prove their mettle, it is their job to do the same with each other.

After elections, governing must begin. For the past two years, gridlock has been the status quo in Washington. At the heart of it all is partisan bullheadedness on the part of both parties. Election positioning for 2012 after the 2010 midterm elections became the priority, not reforming the tax code, balancing the budget, nor any other campaign issue.

Republicans and Democrats alike agree: This has to stop. Their mutual impasse, however, suggests it will not be enough for them to think of compromise as abandoning their views to jump ship and swim to the other side. We are all on the same ship; we have only to walk around to find the staircases that connect the decks, and there will be the common ground on which we should stand.

Each representative has a mandate from his or her constituency — the whole constituency, everyone who lives in the district, not just the ones who voted for him or her — to act on their behalf. Public life requires sacrifices; to get one’s way in politics is nothing short of tyranny.

Election campaigns are like military campaigns. After the battles are over, the fields and towns of the event need reconstructing. Our own Civil War ended in that way. Barely halfway into the two-year conflict, the Lincoln administration began adopting policies that looked to war’s end and reintegrating the South into the Union. If we could do it in the middle of an actual war, surely we can begin doing it the day after the election.