As a huge sigh of post-election relief sweeps over the nation (except for the Sandy-pounded areas about to get slammed by a snowy nor’easter), the question is no longer “Who will get elected?” but “Will anything change?”
On the surface, there’s little difference. Nationally, Democrats still control the White House and the Senate while Republicans control the house, both by similar margins. The stage could be set for the same kind of obstreperous government-by-obstruction that has marked the past two years.
But the pieces are also in place for a new day of cooperation, if lawmakers should choose to put the good of the country ahead of party ideology and personal aggrandizement. Surely they all have heard the sentiments of an electorate that is sick of the posturing, paralyzing polarization that has characterized recent history. They want leaders who are more interested in seeing the country succeed than in seeing the other party fail.
What if — just imagine, what if — senators and representatives should take a lesson from classic Baptists and dare to think for themselves. What if the people we elected should base their votes on what seems to make the best sense to them and for their constituents, rather than on what the party whip tells them their vote must be?
Imagine what it would be like if all the political machinery in Washington should pull together like the thousands of Baptist relief workers who have been pouring into the Northeast to bring food and showers and healing and hope in the wake of the already-legendary “superstorm.” In states like North Carolina, at least, Baptists related to the more conservative Southern Baptist Convention and the more moderate Cooperative Baptist Fellowship regularly join hands and hearts and pocketbooks through relief ministries coordinated by North Carolina Baptist Men.
President Obama never needs to be elected again, so he may feel more freedom in exercising leadership, though he’s been so demonized by the far right that some will oppose most anything he favors, making effective leadership difficult. But could we see a fresh voice arise in the House or Senate who has the common sense to be pragmatic, the hutzpah to call for compromise, and the charisma to pull it off? Could we see lawmakers worry more about the country and less about their re-election?
We can hope.
I’m doing both.
Professor of Old Testament at Campbell University Divinity School in Buies Creek, North Carolina, and the Contributing Editor and Curriculum Writer at Good Faith Media.