GBC’s Fry: Lessons from the election

Don Fry Commentary on WYPR

For political leaders and policy makers in our nation and state, there are lessons to be gained from the historic election of Barack Obama.

Major messages from the American electorate are obvious. People clearly want change. They want, and expect, something different from their elected leaders.

But amid the current euphoria, our leaders should be careful not to misread this election. Americans elected someone who promised change through consensus, not polarization.

For most, this election was very likely not about one political party or other. Despite one-party control of all three branches, Congress should avoid concluding that it has a mandate for just one party’s solutions.

Americans appear tired of infighting and knee jerk policy positions from both sides of the aisle. They want fresh, innovative collaboration that gets beyond blaming and on to problem-solving. Despite this solid win for Democrats, I believe the electorate seeks President-elect Obama to govern from somewhere in the middle.

Politically, election results reveal a still very divided country.

This year the incumbent president had the lowest approval rating in history, supported a largely unpopular war, and presided over the biggest economic collapse in decades. His party’s candidate paled by comparison in charisma; ran a largely uninspiring campaign, had a virtual unknown with limited credentials for a running mate, and was considerably outspent.

Yet despite an overwhelming advantage in electoral votes, President-elect Obama won the popular vote by a margin of less than 7 percent.

Voters clearly want President Obama to get to work on solving the nation’s many challenges. But this election did not deliver a decisive vote of confidence for either party’s traditional policies.

Elected leaders in Washington, and Annapolis as well, would be wise to absorb this lesson and act as problem-solvers, not finger-pointers, and to work creatively and collaboratively, rather than as entrenched, stale ideologues.

For the Regional Business Report, this is Don Fry, President and CEO of the Greater Baltimore Committee, for 88.1 WYPR, your NPR news station.

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