It is finally over, after months upon months of negative campaigning, incessant attack ads, and a bitter partisan divide, the 2010 midterm elections have come and gone. As the dust settles, the political landscape reveals a juggernaut of Republican victories, one of the most lopsided midterm elections in decades. The irony of what the last two years have brought should not be lost on anyone. After the 2008 election pundits were certain that we were witnessing an era of Democratic Party dominance that would last for years. However, a change in the political winds ushered in a new Speaker of the House and a more balanced U.S. Senate. Additionally, Republicans control more state legislatures than they have in over fifty years. So, that is a quick glance at the current political environment in our country, let us now spend a little time reflecting on how we got here and how we should proceed.
The one aspect of this election that everyone is talking about is the infamous TEA Party movement. Love them or hate them, no one can deny that their presence played a huge factor in the election. Some have even gone as far to say that they are the sole reason that the GOP was able to win so many House seats. Let me offer a different explanation, however, as to why the Republicans were able to win. During the 1992 Presidential campaign, James Carville popularized the phrase, “It’s the economy, stupid.” The past two election cycles have shown that, “It’s the economy, and that is stupid.” I would like to think that the American public will vote on competing political philosophies, character of the candidates, and of course, moral issues. But the truth is that the single most important factor when predicting whether or not an incumbent will be reelected is how the economy is doing. If things are going well we see the vast majority of politicians get sent back to D.C., but if the economy is in a downturn—as it has been in 2008 and 2010—incumbents will find it much more difficult to retain their jobs. As Christians we need to remember that, while the economy certainly is an important matter, we should not base our vote solely on that issue.
Now, where do we go from here? We should keep two things in mind. The first is that neither party is going to be able to implement their entire agenda. With the Democrats controlling the White House and the Senate, Republicans will not be able to pass into law some of the items they campaigned on. Likewise, the Democrats can’t expect to pass some of the more controversial items on their agenda as long as the Republicans control the House. And, despite what strong partisans would suggest, this is actually a good thing for the nation, because it will force both sides to compromise. Unfortunately, the word “compromise” has practically become a curse word in politics, but in actuality it is a wonderful example of how our leaders should be acting. The word compromise comes from the idea of a co-promise, meaning that both sides promise to do something. In the vast majority of cases we can hold true to our convictions while co-promising with the other side in order to pass legislation that promotes the common good. Instead of making shady backroom deals to get laws passed, let us encourage our elected officials to work with the other side to find common ground that will move our country in the right direction.
The second principle we encourage our leaders to remember is that they do not only represent the people who voted for them. Rather, their call is to work for the good of everyone in their district, state, and nation. Just because you may have a congressman that is anti-immigrant doesn’t mean that you can’t encourage them to work for immigration reform. Likewise, if your senator is pro-choice, he or she should still take the time to listen to the concerns of the pro-life community. No district is completely monolithic, and while it isn’t always a good fund-raising tactic, it is good governance to respect all of the citizens whom one is entrusted with governing.
This election saw the pendulum swing sharply to the Right, but there will come a time when it once again shifts back to the Left. For now we should all stay engaged in the process, stand up for legislation that promotes the common good, and speak prophetically to our leaders when they veer off course. But in the meantime, enjoy your brief respite from the campaign commercials, because it won’t be that long until they start all over again.