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Patrick Maillet: The ‘United’ States of America

By Patrick Maillet, Columnist
Published November 11, 2012

“We are not a collection of red states and blue states — we are, and forever will be, the United States of America.”

I first heard these words on July 27, 2004 during the Democratic National Convention’s keynote address. I watched a youthful, black senator from Illinois — whom I had never heard of before, and whose name I couldn’t pronounce — enchant the crowd with this simple, yet brilliant creed. Watching the speech on TV, my mom and I just looked at each other and said, “Whoa, who is this guy?”

1,272 days later, my mom and I sat at the steps of the U.S. Capitol Building crying with a crowd of 2-million people as we watched President Barack Obama once again reiterate this inspiring mantra during his inaugural address.

And last Tuesday night, I could do nothing but smile, teary-eyed, as I watched Obama preach this creed once more in his victory speech. Although it has taken this country far too long to appreciate these words, we are finally on the brink.

In the President’s first term, partisanship handcuffed our government and ensured that little got achieved. Nothing exemplified this better than Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell’s daunting words from 2010: “The single most important thing we want to achieve is for President Obama to be a one-term president.”

During the debt crisis last summer, we watched as a desperate Speaker of the House John Boehner seemed to be torn between sensible Republicans willing to compromise and radicals more focused on cutting Planned Parenthood than actually solving the nation’s pressing problems. Terrified of mutiny, Boehner refused to even consider the possibility of raising taxes and allowed the Tea Party radicals to overpower the Old Guard Republicans.

Although Obama won a second term as president, Tuesday night’s real winner was Boehner. Of the 16 Senate candidates endorsed by the Tea Party Express, 12 lost, and some of the more radical Tea Party representatives also lost their reelection bids. The Tea Party movement was able to hijack Congress in the 2010 midterm elections, but America has finally woken up and realized these radicals' only accomplishment is dividing our government even further. Boehner has finally regained control of his party, and with that newfound power the opportunities of these next four years are truly endless.

Now, hopefully, Boehner and other Republicans will understand that a Tea Party-dominated political conversation is no longer savvy. The American people have loudly proclaimed their distrust and disappointment in Tea Party-gridlocked government.

Do I expect Boehner and his majority to suddenly become a pack of wild liberals who rubber-stamp everything the President puts in front of them? Absolutely not. However, the message was made loud and clear last week by the American people: radicalism will not be tolerated and compromise is vital. Finally, the adults in the room can have a civil conversation without the disobedient brat that is the Tea Party getting in the way of reliable legislation.

Whether it’s tackling the impending “fiscal cliff,”— a fast approaching expiration date for many tax cuts and deductions — lessening our dependence on foreign oil or finally taking on the perils of climate change, compromise between the President and levelheaded House Republicans is essential to effectively deal with the issues we face. Without the fear of Tea Party backlash, perhaps Republicans will finally be willing to couple modest tax increases with spending cuts, the only realistic way to eliminate our deficit and begin to pay down our debt.

A lot of people accuse me of being far too idealistic. They claim that Washington D.C. will just go back to being what it has been for the last two years. There’s definitely a chance this will happen. Many are already losing faith in our government in response to Boehner’s Friday ABC News interview when he stated that any tax rate increases are “unacceptable” in terms of bargaining with the President.

This interview was somewhat ominous, but politics is also a lot like poker — you never show the other guy your cards. Boehner may eventually be coerced into agreeing to modest tax increases, particularly on the wealthy, but he would never reveal that prior to the onset of the negotiations — that would just be poor bargaining skills.

America could very well be on the brink of a major bipartisan breakthrough. The odds are certainly stacked against us — the markets don’t have faith in us, the credit rating agencies are skeptical and most Americans have already lost hope. Obama and Boehner must seize their respective opportunities and help lead this country.

After all, if debt ends up crushing our future or if climate change ends up reshaping our country, the effects won’t only be felt by red states or blue states, they will be felt by all of us. Unity has always been the key to America’s success, and although many believe America’s best days are behind us, I look to the future more hopeful than ever.

Patrick Maillet can be reached at maillet@umich.edu.


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