I’ll pass on predicting who will win the presidential election, because I can make a safer, more confident prediction about what will happen in its aftermath. The embittered troops of the party that loses will claim that their candidate didn’t get a fair shake and will hunker down to fight and foil the victor. It’s what we do, God help us.
But to that prophecy, I attach a plea: Prove me wrong. Purge the acrimony of the campaign. Transcend whatever distrust lingers. Give the winner a real chance to do some good, and give him the benefit of the doubt.
It would be the mature thing to do, and it might be the wise thing, too.
There’s an opportunity here for President Barack Obama to begin a second term by lavishing his attention on areas of general bipartisan agreement or for Mitt Romney to begin a first term with a focus on that same territory. It exists. Both parties acknowledge the need for tax reform and agree that we have to figure out a way to keep the spending on Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid in check. Both parties accept that a competitive America is an educated America, and would like to see the country make strides on that front.
So before we surrender to our worst fears about the winner or re-litigate our complaints against him, shouldn’t we first adopt a posture of support and see if he steps forward as a consensus-building problem solver rather than a hostage to special interests and partisan passions?
Already I can hear the wailing. I can foresee my inbox: Romney is a soulless opportunist who bought and lied his way into office and will capitulate to the immovable extremists in his party. Obama is a socialist in sheep’s clothing, and with no third term to worry about, he’ll ditch the fleecy threads and pounce.
There’s a lot of that all-good, all-bad, Manichaean thinking out there, abetted by the altered news-media landscape, in which the id of Twitter eclipses the superego of traditional journalism and subjective riffs outnumber objective reports.
There’s a corrosive itch to see political opponents not merely as wrongheaded but as evil. And if you look back at this campaign, one clear leitmotif is the painstaking construction, by Democrats and Republicans alike, of the case that the other side contrived unfair advantages, stacked the deck and rendered any true reading of the popular will impossible.
Republican accusations of voter fraud met Democratic accusations – more credible – of voter suppression. And then there was Hurricane Sandy. If Obama squeaks to victory, Republicans will speak forevermore about the hurricane, the way it blew away Mitt-mentum and the heroic pose it allowed the president to strike. They will rue the rains, curse the tides and cast Obama’s second term as a final-hours fluke of the weather. That is, when they’re not using effigies of Chris Christie and Mike Bloomberg as pinatas.
In the end it’s possible to see whoever prevails in the presidential election not as the less principled, more fortune-kissed candidate but as the one whose message had the most appeal and whose prescriptions voters felt like putting their chips on. And granting that person an initial degree and grace period of trust seems to me not only the democratic thing to do, but also the constructive one.