Nothing good came from Hurricane Sandy, one pundit wrote this week, and for thousands of people in the Northeast that was true.
Amid the destruction, though, we got a glimpse of an uncommon and uplifting phenomenon: Politicians of different parties working together toward the greater good.
Republican New Jersey Gov. Chris Christies accolades for President Barack Obama raised eyebrows amid a tight presidential race. But for many Americans, it was a rare taste of bipartisanship, and they liked it.
Is it too much to hope for a big dose of that from the next president and Congress?
Maybe so, if the past is prologue. Congresss incompetence, driven mostly by blind partisanship, has earned it some of the lowest approval ratings it has ever had, and Obama has hardly inspired devotion.
By handily beating Republican challenger Mitt Romney Tuesday, Obama earned up to four more years of facing a polarized, power-sharing Congress and a mountain of problems.
Expect no honeymoon for Obama this time. The Bush-era tax cuts, extended during Obamas tenure, vanish on Dec. 31, and indiscriminate across-the-board spending cuts kick in. Whether a lame-duck Congress acts immediately or delays into the new year, a crisis already awaits Obama. Then theres Iran, Syria, the deficit, health care reform and a dozen other quagmires.
Congress and Obama should note that Romney closed the gap with Obama in the campaigns final weeks only after he redefined himself from a severe conservative to a decided moderate. With the economic recovery so sluggish, an accomplished businessman like Romney should have had a fairly easy time arguing the nation needs change. The closeness of the race testifies to the electorates distaste for Romneys veer to the right in the primaries. Most of the country is in the middle or close to it, yet Congress and the administration bow to the extremes.
Obama must end that. He must articulate a specific but broad vision that forces the country to confront the hard truths it faces. He must have the political skills to sell it to a fractured Congress skills he didnt demonstrate in his first term. If that proves impossible, his plan must ring true enough that he can sell it to the people, which will in turn force Congress to get on board.
A majority of voters expected that from Obama in his first term, and he failed. We cant afford four more years of that. The president must lead, and the Republican U.S. House and Democratic U.S. Senate must put the countrys future before special interests and calculations around the 2014 midterm election.
The polarization that has intensified its grip on the United States over the past decade or so is a clear and present danger to our continued prosperity. Its bigger than any individual president or even 535 members of Congress. But if an effort to change doesnt start with them, the debt rises, the safety net frays and our countrys relative affluence is genuinely imperiled.