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Few things are as American as an inauguration. It’s the mom and apple pie of politics. No matter what party you are from or what candidate you voted for in November, it is hard not to marvel at the majesty of the peaceful transition from one presidential term to another.
With the oath of office taken, the parade over, the parties ended, the majesty of the inauguration recedes and the reality of a deeply divided and gridlocked Washington returns. Think of it as the inaugural hangover, the unwelcome reminder of how broken things have been in Washington over the last few years.
On Monday, President Barack Obama delivered an eloquent inaugural address. In it, he laid out his vision for America and where he wants to take the country over the next four years. However, unless President Barack Obama is willing to work with Republicans in the House and the Senate, negotiate on fair terms with them, and in the end, compromise, then his inaugural address will have as little real-world impact as a letter to Santa Claus.
Republicans in Congress and President Barack Obama are going to disagree over much, the vision Republicans would lay out for this country would be a very different one than President Barack Obama did. This disagreement, however, does not have to mean dysfunction.
President Barack Obama, Democrats in the House and the Senate, and Republicans in the House and the Senate, must recognize that unless they work together, nothing will be accomplished. And not getting anything accomplished is not an option.
Our country is facing serious challenges, challenges that cannot simply be ignored. We need to make tough decisions, and they need to be made soon.
We are facing an unprecedented fiscal crisis, and mountains of debt threaten not just future generations of Americans, but threaten this generation. This crisis could rock the very foundations of our economy if it is not addressed and addressed soon.
Our economy continues to struggle, with the unemployment rate still at an unacceptably high percentage. Too may Americans have been out of work for too long, and the economic outlook for both the short term and the mid term remains unsettled.
Our reliance on foreign oil continues to pose serious economic, national security and environmental concerns. We continue to operate under an antiquated and cumbersome tax code, one that makes it more difficult for small businesses — the engine of our economy — to start, grow and succeed.
Our immigration system is almost as broken as our politics in Washington. We need a 21st-century approach to immigration that strengthens our economy, strengthens the fabric of our great American society, strengthens our borders, and does so in a way that reflects our humanity.
While we may disagree and disagree strongly on the best solutions, few in either party would argue that these are not the challenges we face as a nation. The average American thinks: if the two sides recognize that these are the challenges we face, and if they both acknowledge that nothing can be accomplished to solve these problems unless the two parties work together, than how on earth are they not working together? It is easy to see why so many Americans disapprove of the job our leaders in Washington are doing, and it is easy to see why so many Americans have become disillusioned with politics in general.
It doesn’t have to be this way; the remedy to the inaugural hangover is evident to even the most casual observer: we need bipartisanship. Saying we need it and making it happen are two entirely different things.
If we are going to have real bipartisanship, a bipartisanship that will allow us to find big solutions to the big challenges we face, it will require leadership — and that leadership must start at the very top.
President Barack Obama doesn’t need to start preparing for the 2014 midterms, he needs to reach out to Republicans in both chambers and commit to working together. The endless campaign cycle is not only corrosive to the political process, it all but guarantees that no one in Washington has an interest in working with anyone on the other side of the aisle.
There will be plenty of time for campaigning, now is the time to get things done.
We need leadership that not only encourages bipartisanship but is willing to stand up to those on the ideological fringes in both party who work tirelessly to sabotage any bipartisan efforts.
Speaker John A. Boehner, R-Ohio, demonstrated immense political courage during the last fiscal cliff crisis, political courage that almost cost him his speakership. It is time that President Barack Obama show that same kind of political courage. It is time that he speak out against extremists on the left and it is time for him to urge that Harry Reid and the Democratic-controlled Senate become a fully participating part of the legislative process.
The next four years will determine what President Barack Obama’s legacy will be, and more importantly, will help decide what kind of country we leave for our children and grandchildren.
Steven C. LaTourette is a former congressman from Ohio and president of the Republican Main Street Partnership.