All of that just serves as an introduction to a post on my mediation blog, which I am reprinting here, which analyzes the midterm election from a mediator's perspective:
Regardless of their own political leanings, advocates of mediation should be concerned by the bruising midterm campaign season that has just ended, and by the prospect of gridlock and increased partisanship in the next session of Congress. In mediator's terms, we are facing the likelihood of impasse. Conservative Democrats and moderate Republicans have been drummed out of both parties, leaving the more doctrinaire members dominant. Newly energized Republicans have already announced that they have no appetite for compromise. And Democrats have already started attributing the diminished enthusiasm of their base to the administration's willingness to make concessions to the opposition. It will take all of the president's mediator-like skills to make progress in this situation. Alternatively, he may abandon those instincts and take a more "Give 'em hell, Harry" approach to governing, which would probably please sizable elements of his supporters.
The public in general, and mediators in particular, responded positively in 2008 to candidate Obama's promises of a new kind of politics in which people of different views would work together constructively and respectfully to solve the country's pressing problems, instead of acting in our usual divisive and destructive manner. That hasn't exactly happened, has it? And it wasn't for lack of trying on the president's part. But critics on the left have relentlessly attacked the administration for being too conciliatory, while critics on the right have adopted a deliberate strategy of opposing anything the administration has proposed. It seems as though hardly anyone is still attracted to the vision articulated in Barack Obama's electrifying speech at the 2004 Democratic Convention in which he implored us to get beyond red states and blue states and start identifying ourselves as part of the United States. Yet that vision, which many would probably now dismiss as hopelessly naive, was what propelled Obama to the forefront of the presidential race, and attracted millions to support his candidacy.
What has happened in our politics the last couple of years shows how hard it is to get past our propensity to view the world in adversarial terms. If the president has been unable to sell the public on the idea of peacefully resolving our political conflicts, how are mediators going to be able to sell the public on the idea of peacefully resolving private disputes?
I would add that this is obviously not just a problem for mediators. We now face an increasingly polarized political climate, with all of the highly partisan new members of Congress from the Republican side facing an even more liberal Democratic side, purged of many Blue Dogs. And Congress is now split right down the middle. The irony is that among the general public, there is actually a fairly high degree of consensus on how to approach a number of the problems that still need to be addressed, for example immigration, energy, the environment, international terrorism, economic recovery, and taxes. Bi-partisan responses to many of these problems have already been worked out. The outlines of comprehensive immigration reform were already proposed by President Bush. The outlines of a comprehensive approach to climate change were exhaustively worked out by a committee consisting of Senators Kerry, Lieberman and Graham. Yet our polarized political structure will likely make it impossible to enact reforms that the majority of the public supports, because all of these problems have become political footballs in an adversarial contest. Are we going to prefer to see a series of showdowns between incoming Speaker Boehner and President Obama over the next couple of years, or do we want to encourage some real negotiation to solve these problems?
(KAL cartoon from The Economist)