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COURSEY: Time to change the political narrative

Published: Wednesday, November 7, 2012 at 2:07 p.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, November 7, 2012 at 2:07 p.m.

For the past four years, the accepted narrative of America has been that we are a nation divided. Polarized. Pulling in different directions. Half for, and half against.

Today, a lot of wise people – from pundits to politicians to Internet posters and tweeters – seem to be willing to accept that as the narrative for the next four years.

Not me.

I think it's time to change the narrative, to turn away from this self-fulfilling prophecy.

I'm not blind. I see the map with its swaths of red across the heartland and rural America, and its dabs of blue in urban areas and enclaves of the wealthy. I can read the returns that show the popular vote almost evenly divided between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney. I recognize that Republicans remain in control of the House and Democrats rule the Senate.

I can spell “gridlock.”

But I also know that this is not what Americans want. When it comes to our desires for the future, we are not divided. We are unified in our hopes for security in our economy, opportunity for our children, availability of health care, stability in our government.

Sure, we have different ideas about how to get there. And there are serious arguments about some of details around the margins. But on a macro level we all want the same thing: a better economy, quality health care, an educational system that is on the rise rather than the decline.

There are those who will look at Tuesday's political results and disagree. You could hear them revving up their excuses even before all the votes were counted. There was George Will, the conservative pundit, telling us “the constitution encourages obstruction” in government. Speaker of the House John Boehner opined that his fellow Republicans, by retaining control of the House, “have as much of a mandate” as the president. Many of those legislators who were re-elected on Tuesday may see their victory as a sign that doing nothing is what voters want from their Congress, and that compromise is just a stop on the way to political defeat (as former Sen. Richard Lugar of Indiana found out in losing his Republican primary this spring).

But is that truly what Americans want? I don't think so.

Americans want solutions to our problems, and we don't want politics to get in the way of those solutions. That's why New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie was praised for embracing the president as the two worked together – across the partisan divide – in the wake of last week's killer storm. That's why Christie is already being talked about as a presidential contender in 2016.

“Doing the right thing is good politics,” Bob Schieffer said Tuesday on CBS.

Romney recognized that in his concession speech, urging us all to “put the people before the politics.”

He also recognized reality in his campaign, running to the right in the primaries but sprinting toward the middle as the Republican nominee. That's where the votes are, not out on the margins.

But why, in the end, are the votes so evenly divided? Well, one reason has to be that both parties have essentially abandoned huge swaths of the country to the other side. Those areas – like this one where we live – are relegated to the sidelines. Meanwhile the presidential race, the debate about how the country will move forward, essentially took place in just a handful of “battleground” states, where the political divide is widest and where whatever polarization exists can be whipped into a froth by campaigns that work best when the electorate is stirred up.

And, as soon as it was over, the combatants called for calm.

“I pray our president will be successful,” Romney said.

Obama acknowledged the rancor of the campaign.

“Democracy in a nation of 300 million can be noisy and messy and complicated. We have our own opinions. Each of us has deeply held beliefs. And when we go through tough times, when we make big decisions as a country, it necessarily stirs passions, stirs up controversy,” he said in his victory speech.

“But despite all our differences, most of us share certain hopes for America's future.”

He said he is “looking forward” to working with leaders of both parties to move the country forward.

“We are not as divided as our politics suggests,” Obama said. “We're not as cynical as the pundits believe. We are greater than the sum of our individual ambitions, and we remain more than a collection of red states and blue states. We are and forever will be the United States of America.”

It was a good speech. Now all we have to do is live up to it.

Chris Coursey's blog offers a community commentary and forum, from issues of the day to the ingredients of life in Sonoma County.

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