President Obama has been re-elected, and as many commentators point out, he faces a nation even more divided than when he took office.
In his victory speech, the President’s message came back to unity, how “we rise and fall together as one nation and as one people.” This comes, I should note, after a campaign that sought to demonize the rich and downplay the efforts of the entrepreneur. For those who believe prosperity comes from a full-scope appreciation of mankind, from the minimum-wage worker to the business owner, the President’s calls for national unity likely ring hollow. This is an administration that has taken a fracturing zero-sum approach to human engagement. If unity is at all possible, as the President hopes, it will require a fundamental realignment of rhetoric and policy.
Yet I am hopeful that such a realignment is indeed possible. Unlike his victory speech in 2008, the President seemed refreshingly aware of the inevitability of ideological conflict. “Each of us has deeply held beliefs,” said the President. “And when we go through tough times, when we make big decisions as a country, it necessarily stirs passions, stirs up controversy. That won’t change after tonight, and it shouldn’t.”
As I’ve written elsewhere, this stirring of the passions is a positive sign of social and moral engagement—what Madison called democracy’s “relief”. If properly identified and channeled, such sparring can be a boon for authentic unity should we actually recognize our disagreements and move to the dirty work of sorting things out. Ideology is important, and the first step to restoring economic confidence, whether through the investor, the entrepreneur, or the low-level laborer, will be for this administration to recognize that it has thus far led a significant segment of economic producers to feel isolated, insecure, and picked on.