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
April 17, 2014 -- Updated 1845 GMT (0245 HKT)
Michael Bloomberg and Shannon Watts say Americans are ready for sensible gun laws, but politicians are cowed by the NRA. Everytown for Gun Safety will prove the NRA is not that powerful.
April 17, 2014 -- Updated 1328 GMT (2128 HKT)
Ruben Navarrette says Steve Israel is right: Some Republicans encourage anti-Latino prejudice. But that kind of bias is not limited to the GOP.
April 16, 2014 -- Updated 2323 GMT (0723 HKT)
Peggy Drexler counts the ways Phyllis Schlafly's argument that lower pay for women helps them nab a husband is ridiculous.
April 16, 2014 -- Updated 1642 GMT (0042 HKT)
Rick McGahey says Rep. Paul Ryan is signaling his presidential ambitions by appealing to hard core Republican values
April 16, 2014 -- Updated 1539 GMT (2339 HKT)
Paul Saffo says current Google Glasses are doomed to become eBay collectibles, but they are only the leading edge of a surge in wearable tech that will change our lives
April 15, 2014 -- Updated 1849 GMT (0249 HKT)
Kathleen Blee says the KKK and white power or neo-Nazi groups give haters the purpose and urgency to use violence.
April 16, 2014 -- Updated 1156 GMT (1956 HKT)
Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse and Rep. Henry Waxman say read deep, and you'll see the federal Keystone pipeline report spells out the pipeline is bad news
April 16, 2014 -- Updated 1153 GMT (1953 HKT)
Frida Ghitis says President Obama needs to stop making empty threats against Russia and consider other options
April 15, 2014 -- Updated 2129 GMT (0529 HKT)
Peter Bergen and David Sterman say the Kansas Jewish Center killings are part of a string of lethal violence in the U.S. that outstrips al Qaeda-influenced attacks. Why don't we pay more attention?
April 15, 2014 -- Updated 1641 GMT (0041 HKT)
Danny Cevallos says families of the passengers on Malaysian Airlines Flight 370 need legal counsel
April 14, 2014 -- Updated 1523 GMT (2323 HKT)
David Frum says Russia is on a rampage of mischief while Western leaders and Western alliances charged with keeping the peace hem and haw
April 14, 2014 -- Updated 1156 GMT (1956 HKT)
Most adults make the mistakes of hitting the snooze button and of checking emails first thing in the morning, writes Mel Robbins
April 14, 2014 -- Updated 1754 GMT (0154 HKT)
David Wheeler says as middle-class careers continue to disappear, we need a monthly cash payment to everyone
April 14, 2014 -- Updated 1155 GMT (1955 HKT)
Democrats need to show more political spine when it comes to the issue of taxes.
April 14, 2014 -- Updated 1555 GMT (2355 HKT)
Donna Brazile recalls the 50th Anniversary of the Civil Rights Act as four presidents honored the heroes of the movement and Lyndon Johnson, who signed the law
April 14, 2014 -- Updated 1317 GMT (2117 HKT)
Elmer Smith remembers Chuck Stone, the legendary journalist from Philadelphia who was known as a thorn in the side of police and an advocate for the little guy
April 13, 2014 -- Updated 1856 GMT (0256 HKT)
Al Franken says Comcast, the nation's largest cable provider, wants to acquire Time Warner Cable, the nation's second-largest cable provider. Should we be concerned?
April 11, 2014 -- Updated 1522 GMT (2322 HKT)
Philip Cook and Kristin Goss says the Pennsylvania stabbing attack, which caused grave injury -- but not death, carries a lesson on guns for policymakers
April 11, 2014 -- Updated 1906 GMT (0306 HKT)
Wikipedia lists 105 football movies, but all too many of them are forgettable, writes Mike Downey
April 11, 2014 -- Updated 1432 GMT (2232 HKT)
John Sutter and hundreds of iReporters set out to run marathons after the bombings -- and learned a lot about the culture of running
April 11, 2014 -- Updated 1649 GMT (0049 HKT)
Timothy Stanley says it was cowardly to withdraw the offer of an honorary degree to Ayaan Hirsi Ali. The university should have done its homework on her narrow views and not made the offer
April 11, 2014 -- Updated 1416 GMT (2216 HKT)
Al Awlaki
Almost three years after his death in a 2011 CIA drone strike in Yemen, Anwar al-Awlaki continues to inspire violent jihadist extremists in the U.S, writes Peter Bergen
April 12, 2014 -- Updated 0121 GMT (0921 HKT)
David Bianculli says Colbert is a smart, funny interviewer, but ditching his blowhard persona to take over the mainstream late-night role may cost him fans
April 10, 2014 -- Updated 1731 GMT (0131 HKT)
Rep. Paul Ryan says the Republican budget places its trust in the people, not in Washington
April 10, 2014 -- Updated 2128 GMT (0528 HKT)
Aaron David Miller says Obama isn't to blame for Kerry's lack of progress in resolving Mideast talks
April 14, 2014 -- Updated 1522 GMT (2322 HKT)
David Weinberger says beyond focusing on the horrors of the attack a year ago, it's worth remembering the lessons it taught about strength, the dangers of idle speculation and Boston's solidarity
April 10, 2014 -- Updated 1632 GMT (0032 HKT)
Katherine Newman says the motive for the school stabbing attack in Pennsylvania is not yet known, but research on such rampages turns up similarities in suspects and circumstances
April 9, 2014 -- Updated 1839 GMT (0239 HKT)
Wendy Townsend says the Rattlesnake Roundup -- where thousands of pounds of snakes are killed and tormented -- is barbaric
ADVERTISEMENT