An Electoral Lesson in Resilience

Stephen DeAngelis

November 08, 2006

I don’t normally comment on politics since this is a corporate rather than personal blog. This election, however, strikes me as being all about resilience.
Political pundits from both sides of the aisle in Washington will be analyzing what yesterday’s elections results mean for the future. In an earlier post [The Need for Global Leadership], I decried the lack of leadership necessary to guide the world into a peaceful and prosperous future. This lack of leadership is what seems to have invigorated the voting public in this mid-term election. The public was tired of seeing politics stretched too far to the right only to have those on the far left try to stretch them in the other direction. If you look at the political winners and survivors, they are mostly moderates who reflect the feelings and values of a majority of Americans. The real message was that people are tired of divisiveness and bickering. It was a lack of combined leadership – politicians’ apparent unwillingness to work together – that, in the days leading up to the election, plummeted both the President’s and Congress’ approval ratings. If one clear message emerged, it was that people want policies that work and politicians who are willing to work together to find them. People are looking for political resilience.

What do I mean by resilience? First, voters are looking for leaders who are nimble – willing to admit when policies aren’t working and willing to try something different. Arnold Schwarzenegger is a good example. During his first term, he made numerous missteps. Rather than stay the course, he admitted mistakes, tried something different, and, as a result, got the political “sequel” for which he was looking. Resiliency means being flexible and adaptable. It’s the ability to recognize when things are not working and being willing to change. Second, voters are looking for effective and lasting policies. Sustainable policies begin with a vision – like peace and prosperity. Such policies don’t, however, follow an immutable course. They are flexible and adaptable, recognizing that as circumstances change so must the means to achieve the ends. One of the reasons that I have spent a lot of space in my blog writing about Development-in-a-Box is that it represents exactly the kind of policy approach I’m talking about. The vision that enlivens the Development-in-a-Box policy is helping raise billions out of poverty and disease. The approach is flexible, but promotes the use of best practices and internationally accepted standards. Those practices and standards are adapted to local needs and to changes in the environment. Finally, resilience is seldom found on the fringes. Resilient companies don’t thrive trying to sell in niche markets and resilient politicians don’t get elected by catering to political extremes.

Although I’m a moderate Republican, I understood the appeal that kept Bill Clinton in office for two terms. He was successful in bringing the Democrats toward the middle. Before him, George H.W. Bush and Ronald Reagan also managed to maintain the middle political ground. The outgoing Republican Congress moved away from the middle and, as a result, lost control. This desire for middle ground among voters was perhaps best demonstrated in the Connecticut senatorial race. Recognized moderate Joe Lieberman, who was ousted in the Democratic primary by a liberal and wealthy opponent (Ned Lamont), won a significant victory as an independent. No one can argue that Lamont’s campaign was not well funded. What Lamont lacked and proved to be Lieberman’s strength was a demonstrated record of support for moderate policies and cooperative behavior. Fortunately for the Democrats, Lieberman is likely to forgive election year slights and caucus with them. His moderate voice is likely to remain an important leavening factor in the future.

The Democrats now face a dilemma. They came back into power promoting moderate candidates and moderate policies, yet some of their leaders (Nancy Pelosi and Ted Kennedy quickly spring to mind) are well-known liberals. How they use this leadership opportunity will determine in large measure whether the Republicans can make a comeback in two years to hold the presidency and retake Congress or whether the Democrats remain in power. One of the reasons that Barak Obama has made such a meteoric rise among presidential contenders is that people see him as a moderate – much more in line with the policies of Bill Clinton. People elected George Bush expecting him to deliver social compassion and fiscal constraint. Those policies remain in vogue and the fact the Congress didn’t work with the President to deliver them is one of the reasons that yesterday’s election went the way it did.

Personally I am hopeful that the elections will open a door of opportunity for America. There is nothing wrong with a healthy tension between the executive and legislative branches of the Government. In fact, it seemed as though people had forgotten that the Constitution deliberately built such tension into the federal framework. I’m hopeful because this appears to be a movement to the middle – a more normal political position for American politics than has been reflected over the past few years. I’m hopeful that politicians will understand the collective voice of the electorate, moderate their rhetoric, and open themselves to cooperation and compromise.