Before the election, it appeared liberals had every reason to be optimistic that at least some of their grandiose plans to reshape America might be realized. Even if Joe Biden, the Democratic nominee, wasn’t exactly on their side, he wasn’t exactly a strident opponent of theirs, either. For years, Biden had styled himself a centrist, but he wasn’t a centrist who frequently bucked his own party. Instead, he was a centrist within his own party, for the most part floating along wherever the policy consensus was amongst Democrats.

So, the theory went, if Biden’s victory over Donald Trump were buttressed by significant gains in the House and Senate, liberals might be able to get their way on quite a few things. His campaign had shown a willingness to embrace large swaths of their agenda, and Kamala Harris is clearly one of the most liberal members of the U.S. Senate. Many Republicans and the Trump campaign anticipated this dynamic, too, and quickly attempted to label him a puppet of the far left.

This view of Biden may or not be accurate, but we won’t get much of a chance to find out any time soon. That’s because while American voters rejected Donald Trump’s re-election bid, they didn’t throw out the rest of the Republican Party along with him. Instead, the party gained seats in the House and appears likely to hold the Senate, giving Biden a lonely landslide. If you’re one of Trump’s supporters, you might see this divide as suspicious, but it’s hard to believe Democrats would rig the presidential race and simply forget about Congress and all the down-ballot races. If you’re liberal, you might find it astonishing that voters rejected Donald Trump without embracing your entire platform, but in Maine and elsewhere around the country, that’s exactly what happened.

Putting aside the noise for a moment, it’s time to make it clear what the real message was from the electorate this November: Regular Americans rejected the sweeping agendas of both the far left and the far right. Ordinary, everyday voters made it clear that, for example, they don’t want to enact a Green New Deal from the left or vast new restrictions on abortion rights from the right. That means that those so-called solutions are off the table, which will no doubt be a disappointment to vigorous partisans. It’s worth remembering, though, that just as your side can’t do whatever it wants on any particular issue, neither can the other party. That’s why programs passed on party lines often lead to lasting bitterness, while ones created with bipartisan support endure with less controversy.

Take health care, for instance. It’s easy to forget now, but until recently Democrats’ biggest priority in that area was simply defending the Affordable Care Act. It was just a few years ago that Republicans came within one vote of repealing the ACA. If the national polls had been as off target as polls of the Maine Senate race, Trump would have won re-election and Republicans could have taken back the House. With such a secure grip on power, the Republican Party could have easily repealed the ACA. Now, with a divided government, it’s probably here to stay – especially given the cold reception that a last-ditch legal attempt to overturn it received at the Supreme Court.

There probably wouldn’t have been all this bitter fighting over the ACA had it received even a modicum of bipartisan support, however. In the aftermath of Bill Clinton’s failed health care reform efforts, he passed the Children’s Health Initiative Program with bipartisan support. Support for that program has only grown in the years since it passed, and it hasn’t been the focus of endless disagreement. That’s equally true of the Americans With Disabilities Act, a civil rights bill passed on a bipartisan basis through a Democratic Congress and signed by a Republican President. CHIP and the ADA may not be as well-known as Social Security or the 1964 Civil Rights Act, but they still helped improve the lives of millions of Americans without bitter partisan rancor.

It may, indeed, be true that we can’t except much out of a divided government, but it may also simply be true that what we accomplish on a bipartisan basis seems less notable in retrospect because of the lack of tumult. If we’re able to make some progress that improves this country with a lot less fighting, that’s something we should all take pride in – especially these days.

Jim Fossel, a conservative activist from Gardiner, worked for Sen. Susan Collins. He can be contacted at:
[email protected]
Twitter: @jimfossel

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