Politics is a rough-and-tumble sport, and negative campaign ads have always had their place, but a nasty low was reached this year in campaigns across the country. We certainly saw our share of misleading attack ads here in central Illinois, but in the end, negative campaigning took a welcome hit. In the 92nd House District, Representative Aaron Schock ran an admirable campaign noteworthy for his refusal to go negative and was rewarded with an overwhelming margin of victory. And in the 46th Senate District, incoming State Senator Dave Koehler won his race handily, despite being considerably outspent, and in the face of a series of negative ads against him.
So now, with Congress soon to change hands, the word of the day is bipartisanship. Congressman Ray LaHood was quick to invite newly elected local lawmakers together to set a legislative agenda for the coming year. Perhaps he will consider re-establishing the biennial Congressional Bipartisan Retreat, an event which he co-founded, that brought together representatives from both sides of the aisle to work past their differences and reduce the level of partisan rancor in Washington.
President Bush, too, struck a new tone in his speech the day after the election, reaching out to the incoming Speaker and the new Democratic Congress. While the last six years have not been hallmarks of bipartisan cooperation, there is reason to believe that this will change. As governor of Texas, the President was known for working with both Republicans and Democrats— perhaps he can still become “a uniter, not a divider,” as he famously asserted in the 2000 campaign.
The business community, too, has begun to echo this mantra. Harold McGraw III, Chairman of Business Roundtable and CEO of The McGraw-Hill Companies, laid out the group’s agenda with a speech entitled “The Real World is Neither Red Nor Blue.” The Roundtable also took out newspaper ads featuring photographs of former presidents Bush and Clinton with the caption: “If they can put aside their differences after an election, so can you.” National Federation of Independent Business President and CEO Todd Stottlemyer made a similar statement: “Small business issues transcend party lines, and we want to work with lawmakers from both sides of the aisle to create an environment where businesses can flourish and grow and strengthen the American economy.”
Here in central Illinois, there are a great many projects counting on pledges of federal, state and local funds. The new museum, the Innovation Center, the zoo expansion, and the Civic Center revitalization are all dependent to a degree upon these funds. Today, new opportunities exist in renewable energy and health care—now more than ever we must harness our famous American ingenuity and lead the way on these issues. Each one of us—Republicans and Democrats, Greens and independents—has a stake in our success.
In the knowledge economy of the 21st Century, common ground must be sought to ensure our continued prosperity and U.S. leadership in the world. With the unstoppable march of globalization, the speed of innovative technologies, and instability in much of the world, the challenges we face today are quite unlike any we have ever faced. We only inflict damage on ourselves when we place partisanship above common sense solutions to these very real problems.
Harold Ford, the defeated candidate in Tennessee’s Senate race, may have put it best in his concession speech: “What people want more than anything, and what I heard and I know candidates all around the country heard. . .[was] a hunger, and they sensed a great appetite on the part of the American people for something much better and far more dignified and greater than what we’d given them.”
As we look to the New Year, let us hope that we have reached a turning point in a political discourse that had turned awfully toxic. IBI