Analysis: United but divided

The Associated Press
Wednesday, November 3, 2010; 2:34 AM

WASHINGTON -- America is united in its frustration over the economy, over Washington, over where the country is heading.

But it's deeply split about how to fix some of the nation's biggest woes - a ballooning federal debt, near 10 percent joblessness and a sluggish recovery.

And, now that a divided government is certain, President Barack Obama and ascendent Republicans face only two options: compromise or stalemate.

Can this new power structure - one with different ideological philosophies to fix increasingly complex problems - actually lead a sharply polarized country that can't agree on where it wants to go? Will the politicians even try?

If voters don't know what they want beyond something different from the status quo, how can a government deliver, much less one that's divided?

These will be the central questions of the next two years as a weakened Obama, diminished Democrats and resurgent Republicans try to figure out how to meet the demands of a suffering electorate that now seems to perpetually crave change. And how to keep their jobs in 2012.

"Maybe it is a message from the American public. We've got a Democrat in the White House. We'll have a majority Republican governors. We'll have a Democratic Senate, Republican House," Democratic Party Chairman Tim Kaine said late Tuesday, well before the election was over. "Everybody's got to work together."

If they can.

Republicans and Democrats have opposite - and deeply ingrained - viewpoints on tax, health care, and fiscal policy, making it hard to see how they would find solutions both sides could accept. They agree that stimulating the economy and creating jobs should be at the top of the list, but they part ways over how to accomplish those goals.

If there is a model for the way forward in recent history, it's provided by President Bill Clinton, who established himself as more of a centrist by working with Republicans to pass welfare reform after Democrats lost their grip on Congress in 1994. But Obama and the Republicans would be hard pressed to find a similar defining issue that would address economic anxiety.

That's particularly true given how much more partisan Capitol Hill - and the political parties themselves - have become in recent years. It's getting even more polarized as voters elect tea party-backed Republicans and fire conservative-to-moderate "blue dog" Democrats.

Bowing to the new balance of power, the White House said Obama called the two top Republicans - Ohio Rep. John Boehner and Kentucky Sen. Mitch McConnell - to tell each that he was "looking forward to working with him and the Republicans to find common ground, move the country forward and get things done for the American people."

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