In politics, the bipartisan feel-good “honeymoon” times are growing shorter and less frequent and the “gotcha” times come earlier than ever before. Yet the American public is clearly looking for problem-solving, not partisanship or gotcha dynamics.
Nationally, a divided America voted in Barack Obama as president and strengthened the majorities for the Democrats in the U.S. House and Senate. It seems that after his first weeks in office, Obama’s ambitious and broadly focused agenda has found opposition as much from congressional Democrats as from Republicans.
In Minnesota, Republican Gov. Tim Pawlenty has entered his seventh year in office with strong, but not quite veto-proof, DFL majorities in the Minnesota House and Senate. A nearly $5 billion two-year state budget deficit has drawn sharp lines around issues of jobs, spending, tax increases, one-time federal stimulus money and reform of the state’s fiscal framework.
It is important to note that political parties, in addition to its elected representatives serving in office, are made up of two other key constituencies: the hard-core grassroots activists, including fellow travelers and commentators in the media, amounting to less than 5% of the electorate; and, the far larger and more diverse voting blocks representing each major party on Election Day.
For average citizens, financial concerns outweigh partisanship
With the next election fully 19 months away, partisanship among the average citizens has waned. Feelings of financial insecurity have risen significantly as fears about job security, mortgage payments and the realization that the global economy is in a long-term decline consumes the attention of everyone.
When asked, over half of the U.S. voters (51 percent) believe that government should do more to solve problems. A significant minority (45 percent) also believe that government is doing too many things that are better left to businesses and individuals. In Minnesota, three in four (76 percent) recently reported that improving the economy should be the government’s top priority.
Leaders in Washington, D.C., and St. Paul must know that there is public support for taxpayer-funded government at all levels addressing the short- and long-term problems of real people. Government, to be effective in a growing economy, must also wisely try to stimulate a jobs-producing private sector marketplace that calls on individual citizens to exercise prudent self-responsibility.
Pair investments with greater efficiency
While investments in the well-being of those being left behind must be a priority, most believe that it is possible for government to do a better job and operate more efficiently at the same time.
Here’s one who thinks that the advice of the activists of the far right and far left is less helpful than listening to the common sense of very concerned citizens whose vigilant expectation is sound decision-making in both the public and private sectors.
Chuck Slocum is president of The Williston Group, a management consulting firm.