If there's one message voters are sending this year, it's that they want Washington to change its ways, to be less partisan and more willing to compromise and deal realistically with the nation's problems. Right?
So far, it has seemed that way, and many saw the quick bipartisan enactment of an economic stimulus plan as proof that Congress was getting the message. David Broder, The Washington Post's dean of political columnists, went so far today as to suggest the stimulus package is just the beginning of a year that's likely to produce more bipartisan accomplishments. But agreeing to give away money to make voters happy is easy. It'll be a lot tougher when it comes to the intractable issues the next president and Congress will face, beginning with Iraq. After all, this is a Congress that couldn't even keep partisanship out of the equation, when Roger Clemens was called to testify about steroids in baseball.
And while voters may say they want compromise, in Maryland they went for the extremes -- opposite extremes. Two long-time incumbents were given pink slips in Tuesday's voting. Democrat Al Wynn was sent packing by activists who thought he wasn't liberal enough, while Republican Wayne Gilchrest was defeated by activists who felt he wasn't conservative enough. Add to these the high number of GOP moderates who have decided not to seek re-election because they feel there's no place for them anymore, and you have a prescription for an even more polarized Congress next year.
That will be an enormous challenge for any president who hopes to build a bipartisan coalition.