Conciliatory words are nice but leaders must also act

Some election.

Candidates for graduate degrees in political science will fill libraries with dissertations dissecting this year's results.

One shelf certainly will be reserved for studies on ways the election was affected by new campaign finance rules that allow unlimited spending by super PACs and other independent groups.

More than $1 billion was spent on an estimated 1 million TV ads, and donors -- some of whom gave millions of their own money -- are left wondering whether they got a good return on their investments.

And what to make of the apparently conflicted nature of the American electorate?

Dissatisfaction with our national leadership runs deep. Approval ratings for Congress hit an all-time low this year, dropping to 10 percent in August.

But after Tuesday, we're left with essentially the same political equation that we started with -- Democrats occupy the White House and control of the Senate, Republicans keep their majority in the House.

Investors weren't happy with extending the status quo. The Dow Jones industrial average dropped more than 300 points Wednesday.

Concerns about the nation's economic future are understandable. How can the combination of partisan forces that brought us to the edge of the fiscal cliff now be expected to stop us from toppling over?

It's impossible to muster outright optimism when we're stuck with the same players who spent the past year mired in gridlock as our nation hurdled toward the precipice.

But a sliver of hope exists.

For one thing, continuing along the present course is insanity, which even Congress can recognize. Winston Churchill once observed, "Americans can always be counted on to do the right thing ... after they have exhausted all other possibilities."

We're nearing that point. If our political leaders fail to reach a deal, $600 billion of automatic spending cuts and expiring tax breaks will kick in at the start of the year.

It's a potential disaster for the Mid-Columbia in particular, where so much of the economy depends on federal spending. It's far riskier for the country as a whole, however. The shaky economic recovery couldn't take that kind of hit without slipping into another recession.

Americans want their political leaders to stop the political posturing and start working on the nation's problems. And the post-election rhetoric indicates the message is getting through.

The day after the election, House Speaker John Boehner said Republicans could support some new tax revenue as part of a comprehensive plan that also reins in entitlement programs.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., promised not to draw "any lines in the sand," The Associated Press reported.

And in his acceptance speech, the newly re-elected President Obama expressed a willingness to take a more conciliatory approach in his second term.

"Tonight you voted for action, not politics as usual," Obama told the nation. "You elected us to focus on your jobs, not ours. And in the coming weeks and months, I am looking forward to reaching out and working with leaders of both parties to meet the challenges we can only solve together.

"Reducing our deficit. Reforming our tax code. Fixing our immigration system. Freeing ourselves from foreign oil. We've got more work to do."

Americans are counting on Obama and congressional leaders to do more than promise to put the nation's interests ahead of politics. They have to act.

We can't take a dysfunctional federal government for another month, let alone four more years.