Like many Republicans across the country, I woke up on Thursday morning deeply depressed, my mood soon matched by the falling stock market. I’m distressed not only because of the outcome of the presidential election but also because of the way it was won.
In stark contrast to the hope and optimism he stirred in 2008, President Obama won ugly this time. During his first election, although I didn’t agree with his proposals or philosophy, I was among those who found myself inspired by Obama’s call for our politics to be higher and better. Unfortunately, the way he has governed and the way he conducted this campaign undermine that central and hopeful promise.
I felt that I was watching a shrinking presidency as the campaign unfolded, with Obama getting smaller each day. He often came across as peeved, petty and not presidential. Onstage during the first debate, he looked as if he wanted to be anywhere else, and his comments about his opponent were cutting and deeply personal. The final blow came with his comment to supporters in the final days that “voting is the best revenge.” The mind-set that comment reveals is deeply disturbing: an election as a weapon to be wielded against our fellow Americans.
The central message I took away from the President’s re-election campaign was: Stick with me — we are inching forward, and things could be a lot worse. Not exactly a hopeful agenda on which to build.
Only the President can fix this. In the days after the divisive 2000 campaign, my former boss, President George W. Bush, worked hard to reach out to all Americans. The night he won, he spoke from the Democratic-controlled chamber of the Texas house of representatives and was introduced by the Democratic speaker of the house. He met with Democratic leaders and invited them to the White House for business meetings and social events. He asked members of Congress to join him at a picnic dinner on the traditional marker of his 100th day as President, signaling that governing was a shared endeavor and not just about him.
In the days ahead, we will hear much talk and much blame about the gridlock in Washington. Only the President is big enough to reach across the partisan divide, because only the President has the powerful microphone and executive authority to be the nation’s leader.
To bring the country together, to begin to erase the bad taste of this campaign, Obama has to set a positive vision for the future. He should go to Capitol Hill, every day if necessary, and show Americans he is committed to working with members of Congress. He should reach out to Mitt Romney, perhaps ask him to lead a special effort to focus on rebuilding jobs. He needs to work toward optimistic goals that members of both parties can support.
How the President’s second term will be judged begins now. For the sake of our country, I hope the President will be something he has not been during this campaign: bighearted and gracious. Otherwise, all we’ll get is four more years of what we’ve had, and that thought is truly depressing.