The American electorate delivered a curious verdict to lawmakers on Tuesday, returning leadership to the White House and Congress that has failed at every turn over the last two years to cope with the problems at hand—largely the mounting national debt and an anemic economy.
The all-or-nothing mentality that thrust Congress into virtual gridlock for the last two years has been proven, in some ways, effective—for the politicians. But it's unlikely to persist in another election cycle, with the country teetering on the edge of a fiscal cliff with $4 trillion in cuts coming to the fore and most Americans saying they'd like bipartisan solutions.
But the next question is how the country moves forward and how President Obama handles himself during his last four years. Unencumbered by a re-election campaign, will he be willing to walk further into Republican territory on contentious issues like cutting Medicare and other domestic spending? And if he is, can he convince Republicans to concede any ground on raising taxes?
It's a leadership role he has failed at during his first four years, since he stopped trying to reach out to Republicans on his signature healthcare law and instead choose to push it through with the Democratic majority, using legislative tactics.
Congressional leadership also bears responsibility for the lack of progress on issues of debt and deficit, as was highlighted in a recent CBS News 60 Minutes report on the body's dysfunction. Senate Majority Leader Reid and House Speaker Boehner have worked to win over their respective partisan peers enough to retain their leadership roles, but have not shown a willingness to work with each other. Boehner recently said House Republicans would not raise taxes on upper-income Americans, a key tenet of Obama's re-election campaign.
This stalemate, re-affirmed by voters, will either become the new status quo or will fall away under the pressure of the fiscal challenges facing the nation and a populace that has tried to insist its leaders' work together all the while electing members who have drifted further to the extremes.
Another fissure has been exposed as a result of the 2012 election and that's the deep racial divide that exists between supporters of the Democratic and Republican parties. Obama was re-elected with vast majorities of the votes of Hispanic voters, the largest and growing voting bloc in the country. While many in the Latino community had been disappointed the president had not accomplished more of what he had promised four years ago, he still was a vastly more appealing candidate than his Republican alternative, Mitt Romney.
Romney, in attempting to court conservatives in the GOP primary, moved to the far right on immigration policy, calling on illegal immigrants to "self-deport" and offered no path to legal citizenship for young children brought into the country by their parents. As a result, even running as the economic wizard who would turn around the economy and improve life for Hispanics who had a higher-than-the-national-average unemployment rate, Romney's message did not resonate widely. And with 50,000 Latinos turning 18 each month, until Republicans can figure out a way to craft a better message, they will continue to be on the losing end in coming elections.