Only 1,460 days to go....

Another agonizingly long election campaign has finally, mercifully, come to an end, and President Barack Obama has been re-elected President. His margin of victory in the popular vote, as opposed to the Electoral College, may have been substantially less than four years ago during the "hope and change" campaign, when he defeated Sen. John McCain by almost 8 percentage points. His victory over Mitt Romney, as of the morning after Election Day, was less than one point. Nevertheless, it's a victory, and fairly won, and represents a triumph over some difficult circumstances that historically have undermined other would-be officeholders seeking re-election.

The U.S. economy, obviously, has gone through a rough patch during the last four years, but voters apparently were prepared to accept the President's argument that he inherited a difficult mess and his policies were slowly, but surely, guiding the nation back towards fiscal health. Compared to many other industrialized nations around the globe, including China, we're actually not doing all that badly - as one pundit put it last week, we're the prettiest dog in the kennel. It's all relative. Mr. Obama's second term may be another matter. At some point, blaming everything on the previous administration loses its oomph.

Now that the election is over, the nation will do what it always does, or should do - rally around the commander-in-chief and hope for the best. What the defeated Republican Party should do is something else. A second presidential defeat should have the effect of concentrating minds around what it takes to appeal to 50.1 percent of the voting electorate. Elections, it is often said, are won in the center. Republicans, if they want to remain a mainstream party with a chance of winning elections need to find a way to broaden their message to appeal to the coalition of voters that propelled Obama to victory - Latinos, women, and younger voters. The GOP needs to get with the program on immigration, on social issues and start sounding like a party that not only wants to allow people the freedom to make their own way in life free of too-big government, but is also there to help when needed. That could be on college loans, immigration issues, overhauling Medicare, while championing fiscal sanity and paying down debts.

The party would be well-advised also to find a way of trying to work together with Democrats and the Obama administration in a fashion reminiscent of an earlier period of bipartisanship. If there is one message all politicians should be hearing, post-election, is that voters are tired of posturing and name-calling and high decibel bickering. The government needs to work better. That doesn't mean compromising core principles or compromising for its own sake. It does mean sincerely trying to put the country first and politics second. A good place to start would be managing a way around the "fiscal cliff" - the combination of tax increases and spending cuts set to go into effect in early 2013 unless Congress acts - and hopefully acts in a way that puts the nation on some recognizable long term path towards fiscal prudence, rather than once again postponing the inevitable day of reckoning by "kicking the can down the road." A lowpoint of Mr. Obama's first term was his failure to more forcefully push for passage of the Simpson-Bowles deficit reduction plan. Hopefully in his second term, Mr. Obama will work harder at forging a compromise on this critical question.

Here in Vermont, there were few surprises. Democrats once again ran the table on Republicans, with the exception of the Lt. Governor's race, and the state GOP here really should hunker down and figure out what it must do to recapture the political center of gravity in Vermont. That won't be easy, but the alternative is becoming a perpetual minority party that may soon rank third, behind independents and Progressives.

Meanwhile, congratulations to all the winners, as well as to all those candidates who didn't make it across the finish line first. To have run for public office is an honorable and noble thing, and there is no shame or failure in finishing second. Hopefully, it will encourage those who finished somewhere other than first place to study the lessons of why they lost, reload, and try again two years from now. The state, and your towns, need you. We need many more of you, in fact.


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