First, Democrats (and some Republicans) who have endured eight years of embarrassment have a chance to experience optimism, an opportunity to discard the rightfully-earned bitterness we have felt watching our country crash and burn. With control of the executive branch--and with solid majorities in both houses of Congress--comes an opportunity to make demonstrable and efficient progress in making the United States a fair, just, compassionate place. The Democrats are certainly not above making mistakes in their attempts to right the wrongs of the last few years, but I do believe that Obama intends to try, and will surround himself with skillful and sincere advisors.
Not all of those involved in the next government will be Democrats, of course. With Democratic gains in Congress, some of the more senior and influential Republicans will be moderates. Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe, both of Maine, will have more power among their party members in the Senate. Other Republican moderates may well lose their seats: Christophers Shays of Connecticut is the only Republican from New England in the House, and his chances at reelection are by no means assured. Here in Minnesota, Norm Coleman is running even with Al Franken. Some may not see Coleman as a moderate, and have called him a lackey of George Bush, but campaign rhetoric aside, he is not a Republican in the Michelle Bachmann mold (may she go down in fiery flames). Many of these races will come down to the choices made by the as-yet undecided voters.
A talking head on NPR today mentioned that we'd like to think undecided voters are the cream of the electoral crop, so thoughtful and reasoned, so beyond partisanship that they need the entire campaign season to glean every morsel of possible enlightenment, and only then make their solid, perfect choices. In reality, the undecided voter is a 65-year-old conservative woman with limited education and a penchant for Jesus. The smart folks are more partisan, and made up their minds a long time ago (we would call them Blog Readers, I daresay).
I wish for a different kind of undecided voter, and I wish I had the guts to be one. Here, in a porous, wordy nutshell, is why:
Obama's vision of a post-partisan America does not mean that one party's rule is absolute, or that those with dissenting opinions don't matter. Rather, it means we get over ourselves enough to realize that many (not all) of us want many (not all) of the same things for this country, and that we disagree about the best path for getting there. A healthy, functional, well-intentioned minority has a valuable place in our government. Both parties seem to forget that when it's their turn to be in power. I have heard many times the last few days that one of the best reasons to elect Al Franken is to help assure a filibuster-proof Senate. I can't think of a worse reason. I would much rather that the Democrats, with their healthy but limited majority, work with the moderate Republicans and an able, inspiring president to bring consensus to the quagmire that is the economywarenvironmentsocialdivideclusterfuck we now enjoy. And here's the thing: a 60+ majority of Democrats in the Senate is not going to inspire conciliation and cooperation with the Republicans. It is going to inspire defensiveness and posturing.
Part of delaying a decision as a voter could be, in some idyllic future, to see what the country needs most from our state's congressional delegation. A common campaign trope involves a candidate promising to "do right by the great state of _________," which simply means bringing as many earmarks into the state as possible. I don't particularly want legislation that benefits the people of my state at the expense of others. Is it really impossible to think that we might someday make decisions based on a long term vision for the country? Only if we as voters are willing to look beyond quick gains and a screw-the-other-side-because-they-screwed-me-first attitude. But if my state has a competent, effective senator from the other party, it might be in my country's best interest to see that she or he is reelected. Likewise, a divisive hyper-partisan member of my party might not be the best way forward. I am not suggesting that this election offers such a choice, nor do I mean that party loyalty has no place in our system (after all, Michele Bachmann must go). I am saying, however, that one way forward might be to start, with baby steps, trusting the other side. A little, teeny bit. With a calm, measured, capable president leading the way.
Sure, I trust Barack Obama to get things done with his party in the majority. But here's how much I admire and respect him: I think he can show us a new way, one that includes real cooperation with those with whom we disagree. The devil is, of course, in the details, but it need not be in the other side.