Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage from

Election a call for purple politics

By John Avlon, CNN Contributor
updated 11:31 AM EST, Tue November 13, 2012
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
updated 5:06 PM EDT, Tue July 29, 2014
Gabby Giffords and Katie Ray-Jones say "Between 2001 and 2012, more women were shot to death by an intimate partner in our country than the total number of American troops killed in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars combined."
updated 7:57 PM EDT, Tue July 29, 2014
Alan Elsner says Secretary Kerry's early cease-fire draft was leaked and presented as a final document, which served the interests of hard-liners on both sides who don't want the Gaza war to stop.
updated 7:58 AM EDT, Wed July 30, 2014
Vijay Das says Medicare is a success story that could provide health care for everybody, not just seniors
updated 7:17 PM EDT, Tue July 29, 2014
Rick Francona says Israel seems determined to render Hamas militarily ineffective.
updated 7:37 AM EDT, Wed July 30, 2014
S.E. Cupp says the entrepreneur and Dallas Mavericks owner thinks for himself and refuses to be confined to an ideological box.
updated 9:11 AM EDT, Wed July 30, 2014
A Christian group's anger over the trailer for "Black Jesus," an upcoming TV show, seems out of place, Jay Parini says
updated 12:50 PM EDT, Tue July 29, 2014
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
updated 4:41 PM EDT, Tue July 29, 2014
Carol Dweck and Rachel Simmons: Girls tend to have a "fixed mindset" but they should have a "growth mindset."
updated 7:56 AM EDT, Mon July 28, 2014
A crisis like the Gaza conflict or the surge of immigrants can be an opportunity for a lame duck president, writes Julian Zelizer
updated 2:22 PM EDT, Sat July 26, 2014
Carol Costello says the league's light punishment sent the message that it didn't consider domestic violence a serious offense
updated 8:51 AM EDT, Mon July 28, 2014
Danny Cevallos says saggy pants aren't the kind of fashion statement protected by the First Amendment.
updated 2:52 PM EDT, Mon July 28, 2014
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
updated 2:31 PM EDT, Mon July 28, 2014
Megan McCracken and Jennifer Moreno say it's unacceptable for states to experiment with new execution procedures without full disclosure
updated 2:50 PM EDT, Mon July 28, 2014
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
updated 12:35 PM EDT, Mon July 28, 2014
Jeff Yang says it's great to see the comics make an effort at diversifying the halls of justice
updated 11:55 AM EDT, Sat July 26, 2014
Rick Francona says the reported artillery firing from Russian territory is a sign Vladimir Putin has escalated the Ukraine battle
updated 2:22 PM EDT, Sun July 27, 2014
Paul Callan says the fact that appeals delay the death penalty doesn't make it an unconstitutional punishment, as one judge ruled
updated 6:25 PM EDT, Thu July 24, 2014
Pilot Robert Mark says it's been tough for the airline industry after the plane crashes in Ukraine and Taiwan.
updated 11:10 AM EDT, Fri July 25, 2014
Jennifer DeVoe laments efforts to end subsidies that allow working Americans to finally afford health insurance.
updated 11:33 AM EDT, Sat July 26, 2014
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
updated 8:45 AM EDT, Fri July 25, 2014
John Sutter responds to criticism of his column on the ethics of eating dog.
updated 9:02 AM EDT, Fri July 25, 2014
Frida Ghitis says it's tempting to ignore North Korea's antics as bluster but the cruel regime is dangerous.
updated 2:50 PM EDT, Fri July 25, 2014
To the question "Is Putin evil?" Alexander Motyl says he is evil enough for condemnation by people of good will.
updated 2:03 PM EDT, Thu July 24, 2014
Laurie Garrett: Poor governance, ignorance, hysteria worsen the Ebola epidemic in Sierra Leone, Guinea, Liberia.
updated 9:49 AM EDT, Thu July 24, 2014
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
updated 6:05 PM EDT, Wed July 23, 2014
Ukraine ambassador Olexander Motsyk places blame for the MH17 tragedy squarely at the door of Russia
updated 7:42 AM EDT, Thu July 24, 2014
Mark Kramer says Russia and its proxies have a history of shooting down civilian aircraft, often with few repercussions
updated 2:53 PM EDT, Thu July 24, 2014
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
updated 9:17 AM EDT, Thu July 24, 2014
Mark Kramer says Russia and its proxies have a history of shooting down civilian aircraft, often with few repercussions
updated 12:37 PM EDT, Thu July 24, 2014
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
updated 10:13 AM EDT, Thu July 24, 2014
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.
updated 12:30 PM EDT, Wed July 23, 2014
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.
updated 8:09 AM EDT, Wed July 30, 2014
Gordon Brown says the kidnapped Nigerian girls have been in captivity for 100 days, but the world has not forgotten them.
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT