Carroll County Times

Jim Lee: We will suceed or fail as one country

If answers given by participants in last week's Dialogue on the Presidential Election are any indication, our country is in serious trouble and, regardless of who wins the election in November, it will only get worse.

McDaniel College hosted the event, and I was privileged to be included on the panel asking questions. Harford County Executive David Craig stood in for Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney, while Del. Samuel "Sandy" Rosenberg stood in for President Barack Obama.

I wasn't surprised that each of them stayed pretty much on message with the same campaign talking points that we've all been hearing for the past few months. Rosenberg warned about the dangers of returning to Republican policies that brought us to the brink of depression. Craig talked about how Obama has failed to move the country forward. But I was struck by their responses when I asked what I thought was a fairly simple question as a follow-up to an earlier question concerning the partisanship in Washington and the seeming inability of the two major parties to work together.

What, I wondered, was one thing, one policy item, one initiative or one plan that Democrats have put forth that the Republicans, if Romney is elected, would immediately move to enact. The same question was put to the Democrats, asking what Republican initiative the Democrats supported that we would see enacted if Obama is given a second term.

Craig had the unfortunate luck to be the first to respond, and he fumbling along a bit talking about congressional districts and candidates needing to appeal to their bases to win the election. When I challenged him further, saying he hadn't answered my question, he said essentially there is no Democratic initiative that a Republican president would support.

I have a feeling that Rosenberg would have stumbled just as much had he been required to respond first. Ultimately, Rosenberg said, and both participants agreed, that the parties usually come together on the budget, but that was a response that essentially allowed them to feel good about answering the question without actually offering a specific policy or initiative from the other side that their party supports.

That inability to come up with even one specific item of agreement, to me, is the biggest problem we face as a country.

Craig's answer about candidates having to appeal to their bases sort of sums up the problem. You can fool yourself into thinking otherwise, but ultimately what it comes down to is candidates saying and doing whatever it takes to get elected, or re-elected. Romney's campaign has suffered greatly from this, probably more so than Republican candidates in the past. His record as governor of Massachusetts shows him to be more of a moderate, yet through a rigorous primary season stacked with extreme right-wing presidential wannabes, he has had to bend much further to the right than he is obviously comfortable with. In recent weeks, after a few major stumbles that have detracted from his campaign, he is moving more to the center on some major positions. We saw some of it in Wednesday's real presidential debate, but it may be too little too late.

Obama was lucky because he didn't have to endure that left to middle shift. He went through that in 2008 in his long battle with Hillary Clinton for the nomination. But almost immediately after that election, and to this day, he is still fighting the perception among those in the extreme left that he has been too conservative and hasn't fulfilled the pledges he made to them during that 2008 campaign.

At the end of the debate, Craig made an important point that is basically lost in the heat of any political campaign. He said both Obama and Romney are good people who have the best interests of the country at heart, but they just have different views on how things should get done.

Republicans, Democrats and all other voters and elected officials should remember that basic point, because no one individual has all the right answers. Surely there are Democrats who support some Republican ideas, just as there are Republicans that support some Democratic ideas. If that is true, elected officials should put a priority on finding areas of agreement instead of fighting over every little thing. If it isn't true, then our country is in deep trouble, and it will only get worse no matter who is elected in November.

Our success, after all, depends upon each of us working with others ... even if we don't always agree with them.