The Day After Tomorrow: Leading or Blaming?

11/05/2012 11:56 am ET | Updated Jan 05, 2013

Who wins tomorrow's various elections matters, but whether the collective victors can work with one another to address our nation's most pressing problems matters even more.

With the impending fiscal cliff and the need to once again increase the debt ceiling, all other issues pale in comparison when measured by their impact on the future of America. Removing the uncertainty as to whether and how we will address the fiscal cliff could reignite economic growth and job creation. Conversely, a continued partisan stalemate could soon drive America's economy and our ability to lead into the ditch.

I was leading a seminar in Spain the week after Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney said he doesn't want the United States to turn into the equivalent of Spain. I assured my Spanish friends that Americans (including Romney) love Spain and that their days as the center of attention were numbered. In other words, unless America's leaders act to address our deficit and debt, our country will soon take Spain's place in the limelight as the once proud nation brought low by irresponsible fiscal policies.

No matter the presidential victor tomorrow, he will need to work with the other side. Even if Romney wins and Republicans take the Senate and the House, the need to get 60 votes in the Senate on many issues will require collaboration. If President Obama is reelected, the hurdles to reaching agreement on both sides of Pennsylvania Avenue will be even more difficult. While it is uncertain if Republicans will achieve a majority in the Senate, what is certain is that many of the Tea Party freshmen that Obama has demonized will soon be more influential Tea Party sophomores. Working apart is not an option.

This is not the time for polls. On most of the fundamental issues, Americans are nearly evenly divided--this much we know. It is essential that all of our elected leaders move beyond the finger-pointing and the name-calling to demonstrate the leadership our nation so desperately craves to bridge the divide.

We all should be just as anxious to hear a firm commitment to bipartisan movement forward as we are to hear who wins the presidential election. We should all view the subsequent congressional leadership elections and committee assignments through the lenses of whether the legislators can negotiate a grand bargain with the president and set our nation's finances aright.

My daughter recently told me that while shopping, she was tempted to be spontaneous, but then her pocketbook compelled her to settle down because she could not afford to be reckless with her funds. I am sure that our leaders are tempted to jump right back into the blame game again, but they and we must all be reminded that we need to settle down and finish the hard work of governing. We cannot afford to overlook this fundamental responsibility.

Mark R. Kennedy leads George Washington University's Graduate School of Political Management and is Chairman of the Economic Club of Minnesota. He previously served three terms in the U.S. House of Representatives and was Senior Vice President and Treasurer of Federated Department Stores (now Macy's).