Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage from

Election a call for purple politics

By John Avlon, CNN Contributor
November 13, 2012 -- Updated 1631 GMT (0031 HKT)
Election official Henry Tung displays a sheet of
Election official Henry Tung displays a sheet of "I Voted" stickers in several languages at a Los Angeles-area polling station.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • John Avlon: Election neither an ideological mandate for either party nor support for status quo
  • Avlon: Voters rejected hyper-partisanship and cast ballots for collaboration between parties
  • Leaders have lacked the courage to stand up to extremes in their parties, he says
  • Avlon: Congress' task is to find common ground on issues such as jobs, budget, immigration

Editor's note: John Avlon is a CNN contributor and senior political columnist for Newsweek and The Daily Beast. He is co-editor of the book "Deadline Artists: America's Greatest Newspaper Columns." He is a regular contributor to "Erin Burnett OutFront" and is a member of the OutFront Political Strike Team. For more political analysis, tune in to "Erin Burnett OutFront" at 7 ET weeknights.

(CNN) -- In the horse race coverage of political campaigns, we sometimes forget that elections are just exciting preambles to the main event -- governing.

Now's the time when the parties return to Washington and try to implement the people's wishes as expressed in the election. And unlike 2008 and 2010, neither party is likely to misinterpret the results as an ideological mandate.

This is a good thing. But it's also a mistake to read the election results as simply an endorsement of the status quo. Despite the fact that Americans returned President Barack Obama to office while keeping Democrats in control of the Senate and Republicans in charge of the House, this was no seal of approval on the political division we've seen in Washington for four years. Instead, it was a decided endorsement for balanced bipartisan plans.

John Avlon
John Avlon

Obama won the election with a 16-point margin among moderate voters. Republican Senate candidates who represented the ideological extremes of their party -- Richard Mourdock and Todd Akin, specifically -- were soundly rejected even in states that voted for Mitt Romney by double digits. Polarizing voices such as Rep. Allen West were also retired from Congress. The hate and hyper-partisanship that has disfigured our civic debates in recent years was decisively defeated in this election.

An Election Night poll by the center-right Main Street Advocacy Fund found that 62% of voters said that Washington needs leaders with "willingness to compromise to get things done." This specifically extends to the looming "fiscal cliff" and "grand bargain" negotiations to deal with the deficit and debt. Sixty-nine percent of Republicans and 68% of Democrats chose balancing the budget over preventing tax increases as the bigger priority for the next Congress.

Become a fan of CNNOpinion
Stay up to date on the latest opinion, analysis and conversations through social media. Join us at Facebook/CNNOpinion and follow us @CNNOpinion on Twitter. We welcome your ideas and comments.



Obama won on American's 'aspirations'

The broad outlines of a balanced bipartisan plan are well-known -- cut spending, change entitlements and raise revenue. That's the ground defined by the Bowles-Simpson commission, the Gang of Six and the Obama-Boehner grand bargain.

In all cases, the problem came to selling such a plan to right-wing Republicans, who refused to consider any revenue increases, as well as left-wing Democrats who don't want to see long-term changes to entitlements. That's why congressional members of the Bowles-Simpson commission such as Paul Ryan on the right and Jan Schakowsky on the left refused to support its recommendations, even while conservative and liberal senators such as Republican Tom Coburn and Democrat Dick Durbin did.

Why the extreme reactions to elections?
Quest: 'And now it gets interesting'

But according to the Main Street survey, 54% of Republicans, 50% of Democrats and 49% of swing voters support the Bowles-Simpson plan -- while just 10% of Republicans and 12% of Democrats oppose it.

And despite the strenuous opposition by adherents to Grover Norquist's no-tax pledge, 35% of Republicans say they would be more likely to vote for a member of Congress who broke the anti-tax pledge to find a long-term solution to the deficit and debt mess -- while 31% said it would make them less likely.

All this should give members of Congress the courage to reach across the aisle, both in the upcoming lame-duck session and the next. House Speaker John Boehner has indicated an openness to raising revenues from comprehensive tax reform that could actually lower rates but close loopholes. Boehner is a deal maker who might feel unshackled from the tea party wing of his party if the president leads in a bipartisan manner. He set exactly the right tone after the election by saying, "Let's find the common ground that has eluded us."

The opportunity and obligation of Obama's second term will be to depolarize the nation and the Congress. That will require leading on issues such as entitlements as part of a balanced plan to deal with the deficit and the debt.

It seems possible that with the right bipartisan style and substance, the president can also achieve comprehensive immigration reform and some aspects of his jobs bill, such as a public-private infrastructure bank.

Republicans now realize that they cannot antagonize the Hispanic community and win elections. President George W. Bush tried to pass immigration reform co-sponsored by John McCain and Ted Kennedy in the Senate but was defeated by an outcry from the right in 2007. Obama could achieve that elusive goal by picking up that legislation again.

The good news is that Sens. Chuck Schumer and Lindsey Graham have said they are resuming their bipartisan talks on the matter.

Also, the president's jobs bill, composed almost entirely of policies that had bipartisan support in the past, was dead on arrival in the last Congress for reasons little more profound than election-year hyper-partisanship. But with the economy slowly improving and the election over, there is little reason to prolong the painful charade.

Ideas such as a public-private infrastructure bank could boost employment while increasing the structural strength of our nation, a clear win-win while the Northeast rebuilds from Superstorm Sandy. Best of all, it can be done with comparatively little cost to taxpayers by simply leveraging government investment with private funds, benefiting private employers rather than creating new bureaucracy.

There will be stubborn hyper-partisans who refuse to work in good faith with the other party, pretending that their unwillingness to compromise is political courage. They are the problem in our politics, angry conformists who put partisanship ahead of patriotism and problem-solving.

We have urgent problems to confront in our country. We have the capacity to solve them, and we know the broad path forward. What's been missing is the political courage to stand up to the extremes in our own parties and reach across the aisle. That is specifically what voters want to see in our next Congress -- a spirit of constructive compromise and principled problem-solving that defines the common ground on any given issue and then builds on it.

This is the time to redeem the promise Obama passionately articulated on Election Night: "We are not as divided as our politics suggests. We're not as cynical as the pundits believe. We are greater than the sum of our individual ambitions and we remain more than a collection of red states and blue states. We are, and forever will be, the United States of America."

The opinions in this commentary are solely those of John Avlon.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
July 29, 2014 -- Updated 1650 GMT (0050 HKT)
LZ Granderson says the cyber-standing ovation given to Robyn Lawley, an Australian plus-size model who posted unretouched photos, shows how crazy Americans' notions of beauty have become
July 28, 2014 -- Updated 1156 GMT (1956 HKT)
A crisis like the Gaza conflict or the surge of immigrants can be an opportunity for a lame duck president, writes Julian Zelizer
July 26, 2014 -- Updated 1822 GMT (0222 HKT)
Carol Costello says the league's light punishment sent the message that it didn't consider domestic violence a serious offense
July 28, 2014 -- Updated 1251 GMT (2051 HKT)
Danny Cevallos says saggy pants aren't the kind of fashion statement protected by the First Amendment.
July 28, 2014 -- Updated 1852 GMT (0252 HKT)
Margaret Hoover says some GOP legislators support a state's right to allow same-sex marriage and the right of churches, synagogues and mosques not to perform the sacrament
July 28, 2014 -- Updated 1831 GMT (0231 HKT)
Megan McCracken and Jennifer Moreno say it's unacceptable for states to experiment with new execution procedures without full disclosure
July 28, 2014 -- Updated 1850 GMT (0250 HKT)
Priya Satia says today's drones for bombardment and surveillance have their roots in the deadly history of Western aerial control of the Middle East that began in World War One
July 28, 2014 -- Updated 1635 GMT (0035 HKT)
Jeff Yang says it's great to see the comics make an effort at diversifying the halls of justice
July 26, 2014 -- Updated 1555 GMT (2355 HKT)
Rick Francona says the reported artillery firing from Russian territory is a sign Vladimir Putin has escalated the Ukraine battle
July 27, 2014 -- Updated 1822 GMT (0222 HKT)
Paul Callan says the fact that appeals delay the death penalty doesn't make it an unconstitutional punishment, as one judge ruled
July 24, 2014 -- Updated 2225 GMT (0625 HKT)
Pilot Robert Mark says it's been tough for the airline industry after the plane crashes in Ukraine and Taiwan.
July 25, 2014 -- Updated 1510 GMT (2310 HKT)
Jennifer DeVoe laments efforts to end subsidies that allow working Americans to finally afford health insurance.
July 26, 2014 -- Updated 1533 GMT (2333 HKT)
Ruti Teitel says assigning a costly and humiliating "collective guilt" to Germany after WWI would end up teaching the global community hard lessons about who to blame for war crimes
July 25, 2014 -- Updated 1245 GMT (2045 HKT)
John Sutter responds to criticism of his column on the ethics of eating dog.
July 25, 2014 -- Updated 1302 GMT (2102 HKT)
Frida Ghitis says it's tempting to ignore North Korea's antics as bluster but the cruel regime is dangerous.
July 25, 2014 -- Updated 1850 GMT (0250 HKT)
To the question "Is Putin evil?" Alexander Motyl says he is evil enough for condemnation by people of good will.
July 24, 2014 -- Updated 1803 GMT (0203 HKT)
Laurie Garrett: Poor governance, ignorance, hysteria worsen the Ebola epidemic in Sierra Leone, Guinea, Liberia.
July 24, 2014 -- Updated 1349 GMT (2149 HKT)
Patrick Cronin and Kelley Sayler say the world is seeing nonstate groups such as Ukraine's rebels wielding more power to do harm than ever before
July 23, 2014 -- Updated 2205 GMT (0605 HKT)
Ukraine ambassador Olexander Motsyk places blame for the MH17 tragedy squarely at the door of Russia
July 24, 2014 -- Updated 1142 GMT (1942 HKT)
Mark Kramer says Russia and its proxies have a history of shooting down civilian aircraft, often with few repercussions
July 24, 2014 -- Updated 1853 GMT (0253 HKT)
Les Abend says, with rockets flying over Tel Aviv and missiles shooting down MH17 over Ukraine, a commercial pilot's pre-flight checklist just got much more complicated
July 24, 2014 -- Updated 1317 GMT (2117 HKT)
Mark Kramer says Russia and its proxies have a history of shooting down civilian aircraft, often with few repercussions
July 24, 2014 -- Updated 1637 GMT (0037 HKT)
Gerard Jacobs says grieving families and nations need the comfort of traditional rituals to honor the remains of loved ones, particularly in a mass disaster
July 24, 2014 -- Updated 1413 GMT (2213 HKT)
The idea is difficult to stomach, but John Sutter writes that eating dog is morally equivalent to eating pig, another intelligent animal. If Americans oppose it, they should question their own eating habits as well.
July 23, 2014 -- Updated 1630 GMT (0030 HKT)
Bill van Esveld says under the laws of war, civilians who do not join in the fight are always to be protected. An International Criminal Court could rule on whether Israeli airstrikes and Hamas rocketing are war crimes.
July 23, 2014 -- Updated 1408 GMT (2208 HKT)
Gordon Brown says the kidnapped Nigerian girls have been in captivity for 100 days, but the world has not forgotten them.
ADVERTISEMENT