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
September 19, 2014 -- Updated 0157 GMT (0957 HKT)
Ruben Navarrette says spanking is an acceptable form of disciplining a child, as long as you follow the rules.
September 19, 2014 -- Updated 0158 GMT (0958 HKT)
Steven Holmes says spanking, a practice that is ingrained in our culture, accomplishes nothing positive and causes harm.
September 18, 2014 -- Updated 1831 GMT (0231 HKT)
Sally Kohn says America tried "Cowboy Adventurism" as a foreign policy strategy; it failed. So why try it again?
September 18, 2014 -- Updated 1427 GMT (2227 HKT)
Van Jones says the video of John Crawford III, who was shot by a police officer in Walmart, should be released.
September 18, 2014 -- Updated 1448 GMT (2248 HKT)
NASA will need to embrace new entrants and promote a lot more competition in future, argues Newt Gingrich.
September 16, 2014 -- Updated 2315 GMT (0715 HKT)
If U.S. wants to see real change in Iraq and Syria, it will have to empower moderate forces, says Fouad Siniora.
September 18, 2014 -- Updated 0034 GMT (0834 HKT)
Mark O'Mara says there are basic rules to follow when interacting with law enforcement: respect their authority.
September 16, 2014 -- Updated 1305 GMT (2105 HKT)
LZ Granderson says Congress has rebuked the NFL on domestic violence issue, but why not a federal judge?
September 16, 2014 -- Updated 1149 GMT (1949 HKT)
Mel Robbins says the only person you can legally hit in the United States is a child. That's wrong.
September 15, 2014 -- Updated 1723 GMT (0123 HKT)
Eric Liu says seeing many friends fight so hard for same-sex marriage rights made him appreciate marriage.
September 12, 2014 -- Updated 2055 GMT (0455 HKT)
David Wheeler wonders: If Scotland votes to secede, can America take its place and rejoin England?
September 12, 2014 -- Updated 2036 GMT (0436 HKT)
World-famous physicist Stephen Hawking recently said the world as we know it could be obliterated instantaneously. Meg Urry says fear not.
September 11, 2014 -- Updated 1721 GMT (0121 HKT)
Sally Kohn says bombing ISIS will worsen instability in Iraq and strengthen radical ideology in terrorist groups.
September 11, 2014 -- Updated 1327 GMT (2127 HKT)
Artist Prune Nourry's project reinterprets the terracotta warriors in an exhibition about gender preference in China.
September 10, 2014 -- Updated 1336 GMT (2136 HKT)
The Apple Watch is on its way. Jeff Yang asks: Are we ready to embrace wearables technology at last?
ADVERTISEMENT