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The Longer View

The day after the Republican electoral sweep, President Obama acknowledged that he took a “shellacking.” He agreed to consider modest changes to his health care reform and to reconsider maintaining tax cuts for some wealthy Americans. He pledged, again, to find bipartisan solutions to the crushing problems facing the nation, especially the economy, where he said repeatedly, “I’ve got to do a better job.”

Some commentators, flush with the arrogance of victory, pilloried the President for not offering to decimate his own agenda. He shouldn’t. That’s not leadership.

If there are ways to make health care reform less cumbersome and more responsive, Congress should act with dispatch. But we emphatically do not agree with House Speaker-to-be John Boehner in his grim assertion that this historic legislation kills jobs, ruins the health care system, and must be repealed. Insuring tens of millions of Americans, ending lifetime caps on coverage, protecting those with chronic disease, declaring that the working poor have the same rights to decent health care as the millionaires in Congress — these are moral and economic imperatives that actually improve our economic competitiveness.

If there are ways to compromise on the repeal of the Bush tax cuts to help small businesses, Congress should find them. But to maintain those cuts for the ultra-wealthy in a time of financial hardship and dangerously increasing income inequality is pure irresponsibility.

There is no way to minimize the pain and dislocation Americans feel, or to absolve the president and his party from their roles in allowing the distressing situation they inherited to grow more forbidding. But ours is not a government by popular demand. It’s not American Idol. It’s a representative democracy structured to encourage its elected leaders to take the long view, and guide the public toward solutions that may defy immediate gratification.

Yes, the American people spoke. And many of them are hugely dissatisfied with the status quo, much as they were two years ago, much as they’ll be two years hence unless Washington finds real answers to unemployment and economic distress. But this is no time to abandon core principles, to strip government of its ability to protect and empower or to cede leadership to the loudest voices and the latest surge.

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