Editorial: Next president must embrace pragmatism

October 28, 2012 

MITT ROMNEY is going to win all of South Carolina’s electoral votes, and nothing we could say will change that; we’re not even certain we want to change it. What we would like to change is what either a President Romney or President Barack Obama would do over the next four years.

Our nation faces difficult challenges that require a leader who will put country first and work across the ever-widening partisan divide, who will make unpopular decisions when necessary — and sell those decisions to the public.

We need a president who won’t side with unions trying to keep jobs out of our state — or roll back regulations to let the financial industry wreck our economy, again. We need a president who won’t take the anti-historic position that a “free market” should be completely unshackled from health, environmental and safety regulations — or shut down the resurgence of the nuclear industry by abandoning our nation’s selection of a long-term disposal site. We need a president with an all-of-the-above approach to energy — supporting nuclear, oil and gas drilling, but also aggressively promoting solar, wind and other alternative sources, and conservation.

We need a president who can forge a middle-ground approach to the Washington-created fiscal cliff that our nation is hurtling toward — and to the deficit it was supposed to force our leaders to address.

The government had to boost spending to prevent the collapse of the economy. But we can’t keep growing the deficit — or make such draconian cuts that we plunge the economy back into recession. The only way to rapidly reduce the deficit, and perhaps the only responsible way to reduce it significantly, is with a combination of tax increases and spending cuts.

Those cuts have to come to the military. That could hurt South Carolina’s military-heavy economy. But the answer isn’t to fight them; it’s to insist on a process based on objective criteria rather than politics. We believe South Carolina will do well in such a contest, but regardless, this is the only way to ensure that our nation gets the most bang for its military buck, which should be everybody’s priority.

Those cuts have to come to Social Security, which must be restructured to acknowledge that people live much longer than they did when it was created. They also have to come to the other big entitlement programs, Medicare and Medicaid.

Medicaid is a special case: States have always been forced to pick up part of its rapidly escalating costs, but have been shackled by federal rules. Letting states experiment makes sense, but simply capping spending (as Mr. Romney wants to do) makes no more sense than simply shifting more spending to the states (as Mr. Obama wants to do). Providing a safety net for the poor is a federal priority that, like the safety nets for the elderly, should be paid for by the federal government.

Also like Medicare, Medicaid has inefficiencies and perverse incentives that need to be addressed. Mostly, though, both need to be refocused, with an emphasis on controlling chronic diseases and encouraging more preventive care, to create a healthier (read: cheaper to treat) public. And while we’d like to see improvements to Obamacare, they should be made with the understanding that both Mr. Obama and Mr. Romney have at various points embraced: that the only way to drive down medical costs is to make sure everyone has insurance.

Given our nation’s death spiral into deeper division with each new election, we are pessimistic that any president can bring our Congress back together to solve our nation’s problems. But for all the talk about existential choices, and for all the very real philosophical differences between the two candidates, the fact is that Mr. Romney and Mr. Obama both value working across party lines to develop pragmatic policies that embrace the best ideas from all sides.

Our nation, and our state, desperately need for the next president to do just that. The question is whether the winner of this election will do it — and, ultimately, whether the political class and the voters will allow him to.

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