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Editor's Weekly: A cheer for the voters

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Nov. 9, 2012 - Dear Beaconites - Whether you're a Democrat, Republican or neither, perhaps you'd like to join me in a nonpartisan cheer for the voters. After an interminable and not always enlightening campaign, voters showed a strength of character Tuesday that was refreshing -- and this praise has nothing to do with who they voted for.

Woven through the returns were signals that Americans are neither as fickle nor facile as many campaigns and pundits seem to assume. To the contrary, our quadrennial electoral checkup revealed that certain vital signs of our democracy are healthy and strong. Among the highlights:

-- Citizens can handle reality. Four years ago, candidate Obama offered hope, change and a chance to make history. His campaign was long on storybook appeal, short on addressing such pesky questions as how change could actually be achieved or who might have to sacrifice in the process. He drew a strong base of support, especially among women, young people and minorities.

This year, the president ran with a record that had disappointed much of that base. Yet, as Beacon Washington correspondent Rob Koenig noted, key groups turned out anyway, with some exceeding their 2008 levels of support. Among many factors, the result reflects a certain maturity of understanding that change takes time, that progress can be complicated. In a culture of instant gratification, this maturity is surprising -- and essential for addressing the challenges we face. Let's cheer the voters for patience and persistence.

-- Money doesn't always rule. It matters, of course, whether candidates have the wherewithal to get their messages out and build strong ground games. But uber donors and super PACs failed to dominate this election, as many had feared.

As Beacon political reporter Jason Rosenbaum noted, Missouri's biggest contributors had only a mixed record of success. Nationally, some of the biggest donors failed most of the time. Perhaps voters are not so easily manipulated after all. Let's cheer the voters for perceptiveness.

-- Bipartisanship is big. Mitt Romney's fortunes rose when his message emphasized reaching across party lines to solve problems. Obama rebounded when Super Storm Sandy gave him the circumstances to demonstrate just that. It's too soon to know whether bipartisanship will actually prevail in difficult circumstances -- say, negotiations to avoid the fiscal cliff. But voters gave officials clear warning that they expect more cooperation. Let's cheer the voters for common sense.

-- Diversity is powerful. Exit polls analyzing the vote revealed striking demographic differences, including a sizable gender gap in the presidential race and voting patterns that diverged by age and race. At the same time, as Jo Mannies noted, the rural-urban split that usually prevails in Missouri was much less pronounced than usual in the Senate race, with McCaskill trouncing Akin.

Yes, people experience the world in different ways based in part on demography, yet we can also transcend these differences and find common cause. Let's cheer the voters for sharing the strength of their diverse perspectives.

As victorious candidates transition from campaigning to governing, the Beacon will transition as well, working with our public media partners to track whether what candidates said is what officials do. That kind of accountability is what voters need to keep our democracy healthy, and we are honored to provide it.



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