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Mitch Edelman: Pendulum swinging the other way

Congratulations to President Barack Obama on his re-election, and congratulations to the millions of Americans who expressed their opinions by voting.

Our government's legitimacy is derived from the consent of the governed, you and me. The ballot is our tool for giving that consent.

And congratulations are due to Mitt Romney. When he delivered his concession speech early Wednesday morning, he was both gracious and conciliatory, calling for bipartisanship in addressing the problems the country faces. Romney appeared genuine and genuinely relieved that the election was finally over and done with.

That authenticity was mostly absent during the campaign. Romney as presidential candidate was plainly uncomfortable with the image his party demanded of him.

It became progressively more clear that the hard-right turn he took throughout the Republican primary campaign was a façade.

The man who won election in Massachusetts covered over his "inner moderate Republican," declaring himself a conservative, then a genuine conservative, and finally a "severe" conservative. The positions he was compelled to express in order to obtain his party's nomination were out of the political mainstream and completely opposite his record as governor.

To win his party's nomination, Romney-as-candidate said what he needed to say, not what Romney actually thought.

That gap between his conservative public persona and moderate private beliefs contributed to his stiff, uncomfortable and insincere appearance. It wasn't until he tried to move toward the political center, starting with the presidential debates in early October that his polling numbers began to close on Obama's ratings for trustworthiness, likeability and understanding the public's concerns. But he could not separate himself from the extreme positions he had taken on issues, including fair taxes, women's health, choice or energy policy. Neither did it help that his infamous 47 percent speech and "Etch-a-Sketch" repackaging presented him as elitist and opportunistic.

While an authentic Romney couldn't have won his party's nomination, he would have won the presidency against a weakened incumbent.

The gap between conservatives and moderates is now the issue that Republicans have to resolve for themselves. The pull to the extreme right reached its peak in 2010 with the tea party dominated Congress. Moderate Republicans like Sen. Olympia Snowe thought so little of the rigidly extremist, uncompromising positions her party took that they retired. Snowe's retirement announcement said, in part, "our leaders must understand that there is not only strength in compromise, courage in conciliation and honor in consensus-building - but also a political reward for following these tenets."

She did not need to add that there would be a price to pay for failing to follow them: the presidency, several Senate seats, and defeat for the most contentious and uncompromising tea party Republicans, among them, Roscoe Bartlett, Allan West, Joe Walsh, Todd Akin and Richard Mourdock.

On Wednesday, Texas Sen. John Cornyn said, "We have a period of reflection and recalibration ahead for the Republican Party." The incontrovertible fact that Republicans must reflect on is that the 30-year swing to the right that began with Ronald Reagan has ended, and the political pendulum is now moving in the opposite direction.

The Republicans cannot become a majority party until people like Snowe, Michael Steele or the late Charles Mathias provide balance to its far-right wing.

With the election finally past us, the electorate is now ready for a post-partisan Congress to address the country's weighty problems. The first of them is keeping us from going over the "financial cliff." Congress must act to keep from strangling the country's slow recovery from the Great Recession. Doing so will require compromise. Both presidential candidates asked their partisans to seek consensus.

This period will tell us whether Republicans are ready to face the reality that Americans used their tool, the ballot, to give consent to the direction the Democrats offered.

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