Republicans get shot to effect change

In an election of hyperbole, those shouting the loudest carried the day. Negative ads filled the airwaves, and talking heads on cable news channels couldn’t help but fan the flames.

It was the most important election since the previous “most important election.” We saw witchcraft, bearded Marxists and a grassroots movement during the primary to defeat a candidate that was a lock to win in November. And that was just Delaware. But now, it’s over.

We can put down our pitchforks, turn down our televisions and remember not everything needs to be sensationalized.

Elections have been won and lost. Some for better, some for worse. The scales are more balanced in Washington than they have been for the last two years, and that’s a good thing. Both sides will need to give ground to succeed.

For the time being, the pressure has shifted to the Republicans. After a strong showing Tuesday, they will no longer be able to claim impotence. The party will have a real chance to moderate the decisions in Washington and stand up against out-of-control spending.

They won’t be able to blame the Democrats for shutting them out because the Democrats have lost that power. The Republicans will have a chance to prove they are anything but the “Party of No.” The kind of party they turn out to be will decide what happens in 2012.

They have two paths before them. The first is the path of ideological purity. The Republican Party can stand for the values it ran on and refuse to give an inch. It can stand in the way of the opposition president and work to make him a one-term commander-in-chief. This choice will certainly win it fame and acceptance within the Tea Party, but it won’t earn it high marks for efficacy.

The second path is one of moderation. It can claim high ground by offering the Democrats a seat at the table and by working with them to solve problems with a right-leaning answer without being extremist. It might cost the GOP support from the right, but it will hold the center and has the added bonus of being good for the country.

After a long year on the campaign trail, let’s hope the freshman class of congressmen knows the difference between a campaign event and a subcommittee meeting. Let’s hope it chooses the latter path and hasn’t been convinced by the talking heads people are calling out for the destruction of the Democratic Party, because they certainly are not.

It’s a lesson from 1994 and from 2008. The new party in power needs to check its egos at the Capitol gates. A big electoral victory doesn’t equate to a mandate for unilateral governance. You could win every seat in the House by triumphing with fewer than 500 total votes or you could do it by claiming a 10-million vote margin.

One election doesn’t chance the stance of the country. The United States leans right but barely. That’s what the Democrats missed in 2006 and 2008. They failed to see those elections were a referendum on competency, not ideology. Neither side can govern effectively from either extreme.

The only way to govern effectively is from the center. Let’s hope that lesson didn’t get lost in a year of shouting.

Let’s hope the candidates who said they were going to shake up Washington know you can’t do that without playing the Washington game. Let’s hope we haven’t lost good leadership in the lower chamber in favor of ideological purity.

It will be interesting to see what kind of Congress we’re going to get. The Republicans have a real chance to turn things around, but they won’t be able to if they take themselves too seriously. They aren’t the winners of a transformational election; they are the beneficiaries of a correctional one.
If they lead with modesty, there is no limit to what they can do. If they don’t, it will be a very long two years.

In the meantime, try not to get caught up in doomsday predictions or celebratory boasting from commentators. When the dust settles, we’ll know whether the 2010 election was good for the country. We’ll know if we’re better off because we divided Pennsylvania Avenue. Here’s hoping we are.

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