We Will Have to be Patient in Post-Election America

President Obama and his family are back in the White House. The Romneys have gone back to one of their many mansions. And the United States Congress remains divided. So where do we go from here?

According to an Associated Press report:

Americans retained the fractious balance of power in re-electing President Barack Obama, a Republican House and a Democratic Senate, altogether serving as guarantors of the gridlock that voters say they despise. Slender percentages separated winner and loser from battleground to battleground, and people in exit polls said yea and nay in roughly equal measure to some of the big issues of the day.

In such a divided country, with such a divided Congress, how does the President keep his promise to go “forward”?

You can bet he will get no help from Mitch McConnell. The Senate Minority Leader said Republicans will meet Obama halfway only “to the extent he wants to move to the political center” and propose solutions “that actually have a chance of passing.”

Do tax increases for the rich have a chance of passing – especially in the Republican dominated House?  Speaker John Boehner seemed to offer a glimmer of hope in his conciliatory response to the president’s re-election. But any solution would have to include drastic steps to curb government spending.

Obviously, there will be budget cuts. And some cuts might make Progressives angry.

But, thanks to American voters, the cuts will not reflect the savagery in the Ryan budget. By sending Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan home, Americans have decreed that poor kids will continue to get school lunches. Poor families will still get medical care. College students will still have access to grants and loans. Medicare will not be converted to a grossly inadequate voucher system. Health care reform will survive.

But billions of dollars must be – will be – pared from future federal budgets.

Some economists believe such austerity is unnecessary, that the anwer to a sluggish economy is revved up government spending, not cutbacks. They argue that the boost such spending would give the economy would increase tax revenues and reverse economic decline. The argument makes sense. But we will never know if it would work. The political environment will not allow it.

And the government faces imminent crises that demand attention. According to Bloomberg Business Week:

In the coming months the same president and largely the same Congress will try to fix the same problem: How to bring the $1.1 trillion federal deficit and $11.3 trillion public debt under control. More immediately, they need to avoid the brutal automatic cuts and tax hikes that will take place in January unless President Obama and congressional Republicans can reach some sort of deal. Although Republicans and Democrats persist in making it seem like bringing spending in line with revenue is some form of particle physics, there’s actually no mystery to the calculations. The money will come out of the nation’s $2 trillion entitlement programs. It will come out of the Pentagon’s $680 billion budget. And it will come from tax increases. There will be plenty of arguing over what to cut. There’s no arguing where the money is.

 It’s a solution that would make nobody happy. But it seems to be the only path open to President Obama and his Republican opponents.

It would be great if Obama’s re-election heralded a new “Great Society.” It would be great if enlightenment and compassion had defeated the dark delusions of tightfisted conservatives. But that did not happen. Not this time.

True, some of the worst troglodytes lost their seats. Some of the most extreme misogynists, homophobes, bigots and xenophobes were sent packing. But far too many retrogressive ignoramuses remain in the United States Congress. They will be like a ball and chain around the ankles of progress during the next four years (or at least during the next two; there is hope that  in the next round of elections, the American electorate might finish the job they started on Tuesday).

In the meantime, progressives will have to be patient. Politics – as a Prussian duke named Otto von Bismarck once remarked – is the art of the possible.

Our president can do only so much in this divided country.