Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Republicans delivered a lesson

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The U.S. election is barely over, but economists are already warning that the potential for continuing political gridlock could push the country over the "fiscal cliff," taking the rest of the world with it.

Finance Minister Jim Flaherty wasted no time urging American politicians to set aside their differences to avert a new recession, which would quickly engulf Canada.

The concern is related to a scheduled increase in taxes and spending cuts worth a combined $600 billion that is to take effect at the end of the year.

President Barack Obama and Congress can easily avert disaster by reaching an agreement on how to alter or slow down the pending combination of cuts in program spending and tax increases, but there's the rub.

The election failed to resolve the central political problem of the United States, namely a divided Congress that has not been able to compromise on critical issues.

Republicans retained control of the powerful House of Representatives, where all bills for raising revenue must originate. As most ambassadors to the United States quickly discover, the major sources of power are in the House and the Senate, although the president is the head of government with broad powers, too. Among other things, he or she can prepare a national budget, but it must be approved by both houses of Congress.

A sliver, just a sliver, of hope, however, may have emerged from the election, which the Republicans arguably should have been able to win. Polls showed voters considered the economy to be the No. 1 issue, and a majority also believed Republican Mitt Romney was the best man to resolve the country's fiscal woes.

And yet they voted for Mr. Obama, who promised hope and change four years ago, but went on to preside over the deepest American recession since the Great Depression.

Some Americans understood the economic meltdown wasn't his fault (although it was his responsibility to manage), but others simply didn't care for the challenger.

Mr. Romney was a weak candidate who grew stronger and more appealing with time, but his campaign was hurt by inconsistency and occasionally gross deception.

It was also hamstrung by policies and attitudes that no longer resonate with a majority of Americans, such as opposition to abortion, gay rights, a more just health care system and reasonable accommodation for illegal immigrants.

The party appeals to rural, white Protestants, but it's a declining demographic. America today is ethnically diverse and more moderate than the Tea Party hardliners whose support Republicans have sought. Some states, for example, held referendums on election day on legalizing marijuana and gay marriage.

American political analysts of both party stripes have said the election results should be a lesson for Republicans, who need to stop pandering to the hard right wing and move closer to the centre of the spectrum, where most Americans are comfortable, although their definition of the centre is probably to the right of Canada's concept of middle ground.

The Democrats were considered to be too left wing in the 1980s, but they moved to the middle after being shut out of the presidency for three election cycles in a row.

The Republicans in Congress, however, seem to have regarded President Obama as an illegitimate interloper -- even his American birth was challenged -- and they set out from the beginning to sabotage his reign.

It's clear now, however, that it is the Republicans who are out of step with mainstream thinking.

Rather than greeting Mr. Obama with their arms folded in front, the party of Abraham Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt and Ronald Reagan should sit down with their opponents and find ways to compromise for the good of their constituents.

There will be plenty of time during the mid-term elections and again four years from now to bring out the knives.

Editorials are the consensus view of the Winnipeg Free Press’ editorial board, comprising Catherine Mitchell, David O’Brien, Shannon Sampert, and Paul Samyn.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition November 8, 2012 A14

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