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Susan Estrich
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The Jiu-Jitsu Mandate


The electoral map looks strikingly similar to the one four years ago, but the post-election landscape could not be more different. Four years ago, the president went to Washington with a mandate for sweeping "change," Democratic control of the House and a filibuster-proof Senate.

This time, he faces the same sort of divided government that for the past two years has given us gridlock, a bitter partisan divide and an electorate that can only be described as a house divided.

Is there a mandate in any of this?

Actually, I think there is, at least with a bit of jiu-jitsu.

The mandate is exactly what the president voiced a week ago at this time in the wake of Super Storm Sandy: to put politics aside and bring this country together to deal with the challenges we face. Next week, the president must do what he did last week: be a strong, calming, unifying presence in the storm.

Will Republicans be willing to work with a president they have spent the past four years trying to ensure was a one-termer? Not if they don't have to — particularly given the way the House is divided between Republicans who are more conservative than most Americans and Democrats who are more liberal.

The more important question is whether they believe voters will make them pay a price if they don't. Barack Obama never has to run for office again. Every member of the House and one-third of the Senate are up again in two years.

The challenge for the president is to reach over the heads of his Washington antagonists, to reach out to the governors, especially the 30 Republicans who depend on Washington (which is to say all the departments and agencies in the federal government) to balance their own books and meet extraordinary needs, and to local officials and especially to that undifferentiated mass that politicians refer to as "the American people."

If there is one thing most Americans (if not the entirety of "the American people") can agree on, it is that we hate the way politics is played today — the ugliness, the negativity, the partisanship, the name-calling and screeching of loud mouths on both sides — and ultimately, the paralysis it brings.

That may not be a winning issue in campaigns, where negative ads still work, or on television, where screaming rates. But it is the key to forging a governing coalition.

The president's mandate is to heal a house divided.

There will be plenty of name-calling and blame-gaming on the Republican side in the aftermath of this defeat. First, you'll hear that it was the fault of the liberal media and the perpetrators of vote fraud. You'll hear assorted horror stories about how the liberal media sat on news about what went wrong in Libya and the snags in the Sandy recovery effort.

Then, in the tradition of all losing efforts, you'll see Republicans get into the old circle and start shooting inward: Romney was too conservative (or not conservative enough); he wasn't aggressive enough; Republicans are doing themselves in on social issues (a pregnancy that results from rape is not a "gift from God," and yes, you can get pregnant from rape); they are doing themselves in by being defensive on social issues; Republicans need to be tougher or not so tough on immigration; Republicans need to stand their ground because they got re-elected, too. Conservatives will say, "When you run two Democrats, the real one wins."

My two cents, which is certain to be returned, is that Republicans need to look themselves in the mirror, as Democrats did after the losses of the '80s, and move their party closer to where Americans stand.

I don't think they'll do that willingly. I don't think there are too many Republicans who will be heading (back) to Washington ready to cooperate. But most of them are, first and foremost, politicians. And if they face voters who respond to the president's message of working together, they just might have no choice.

To find out more about Susan Estrich and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at



9 Comments | Post Comment
Re" "...The president's mandate is to heal a house divided..." Obama has been dividing this Country for four years. Can you really believe him, now. I think he wants to grind this Country beneath his heel.
Comment: #1
Posted by: David Henricks
Wed Nov 7, 2012 9:02 PM
Albert Einstein once defined insanity as doing the same thing over and over but expecting different results. By reelecting the same team that has been in place for the last 2 years (Dem President and Senate with a Repub House), I think the US is beginning to meet the conditions in Einstein's definition. The significantly reduce voter turnout for this election seems to indicate a lot of Americans agree.

Nothing was changed by this election. We still have a President who lacks both Churchillian leadership capabilities and simple things like coherent plans to solve problems (beyond spending $). We have a Dem Senate that hasn't put forward a budget in years. And we have a House controlled by Republicans who fundamentally believe the country is on the wrong path. Sound like the ideal team to solve todays crisis? No, I didn't think so...

There will be a lot of rehtoric about the Republicans reading this election correctly and cooperating. I suspect they are likely to provide as much enthusiasm and cooperation as the Dems did after Bush was reelected in 2004.

We are in for some mighty bad times. Hold on to your seat.
Comment: #2
Posted by: Old Navy
Thu Nov 8, 2012 3:20 AM
Agreed Navy. We are in for some very bad times indeed. I'm not so sure that there will be much comprimising, or that there should be. If you want to comprimise on social issues, well thats a good thing, but the republicans should not comprimise on spending. If Obama had his way we'd be spending way more than the deficiets we're running now. Government spending is bad for the economy and ALWAYS comes back to damage the poor and middle classes.
Comment: #3
Posted by: Chris McCoy
Thu Nov 8, 2012 6:20 AM
There is nothing wrong with political "paralysis" if it prevents us from national backrupcy; however, as a minority conservative who sees the inevitable handwriting on the wall I believe we should give the Dems everything they want and get us there (bankrupcy) much faster , possible in 4 years.
Comment: #4
Posted by: Oldtimer
Thu Nov 8, 2012 6:26 AM
Now that barry boy is back and the parasitic behavior grows because of that, as it will, those who currently sacrifice themselves only to see the fruits of their labor increasingly taken away aka stolen by taxation and redistribution to placate the parasites, are realizing that sacrificing their lives and effort is just not worth it;
We are stopping production.
The parasites are going to have less to steal. And what next? Does anyone really think that the parasites will suddenly decide that, perhaps, THEY should go, sacrifice and put themselves through training, then get a new job to pay for others? No fucking chance! Why do that when everything is free, just hold my hand out. Hey I got my obamaphone, I got food stamps, I got disability, I got waivers, I got free shit and more free shit
What will happen is plain and simple: the final decay of our society, a descent into social chaos, looting and rioting.
Fuck all of that put obama in place, fuck all of you that brought us this darkness.
As promised I have commenced the destruction of my businesses. It is only smack talk when one cannot do what one says one can do. I am doing it.
Now I am gone. No more comment!
Comment: #5
Posted by: joseph wright
Thu Nov 8, 2012 7:29 AM

You write: >> The mandate is exactly what the president voiced a week ago at this time in the wake of Super Storm Sandy: to put politics aside and bring this country together to deal with the challenges we face.>>>

My question - and the question on so many people's minds: Why did it take him so long to talk about putting politics aside? For four years we Americans (I am a lifelong registered INDEPENDENT) have sadly watched our political system become ever more mired in paralyzing bickering. Nothing gets done unless its rammed down our throats by one bullying side or the other. (Remember Pelsoi saying we could all read the bill AFTER it passed?)

I would think a REAL leader would have recognized that the problem was systemic from day one and a REAL leader would have worked for meaningful compromise solutions from the very beginning. I'm not exceedingly hopeful for the future of this country. The stock-market's slide the day after the election sort of said it all for me. The markets, banks, small and big businesses (read that the very life's blood of our economy) will continue to operate in slow-motion because they just don't trust this president.

Its a shame that the "leaders" we've elected care more about their party than the country.
Comment: #6
Posted by: diane dimond
Thu Nov 8, 2012 7:32 AM
Today I received a letter from my Pulminologist (mailed day after election) that he was letting his employees go and closing his private practice, going to work as an in-hospital Pulminologist. Unintended consequences of Obamacare! Thanks Dems!
Comment: #7
Posted by: Oldtimer
Thu Nov 8, 2012 8:05 AM
Today I received a letter from my Pulminologist (mailed day after election) that he was letting his employees go and closing his private practice, going to work as an in-hospital Pulminologist. Unintended consequences of Obamacare! Thanks Dems!
Comment: #8
Posted by: Oldtimer
Thu Nov 8, 2012 8:06 AM
Wow, its not often we get a writer commenting on another persons column. Very well said Ms. Dimond
Comment: #9
Posted by: Chris McCoy
Thu Nov 8, 2012 9:15 AM
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