© Greg Nash
There is nothing like a national election to provide a uniquely fresh start in Washington, D.C. Like a new calendar year or a new season, the possibilities stretch ahead as leaders and citizens alike recover from the combat zone of the campaign season. It is an exciting but delicate time, and the tone of our leaders matters; these precious days can be spoiled too easily.
This is why leaders including President Barack ObamaBarack Hussein ObamaBiden's finishing what Obama started with early learning Cotton tells Garland: 'Thank God you're not on the Supreme Court' Budowsky: Vote for Terry McAuliffe: The midterms have begun MORE and Secretary Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonTrump to attend World Series Game 4 in Atlanta Pavlich: Democrats' weaponization of the DOJ is back Mellman: The trout in the milk MORE chose messages of congratulations and collaboration in the wake of last week’s sweeping Republican victories. Their words were respectful of their political rivals and, more importantly, of a country they love. Their leadership protected and strengthened the post-election environment of possibility and kept the door open to bipartisan policy development.
The caretaking of this post-election atmosphere is the responsibility of both sides – in victory and defeat. Gloating or spiking the ball can soil the capital’s fresh start and dash any possibility of constructive collaboration among parties. This is why Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellMcConnell backs Herschel Walker in Georgia Senate race The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Democrats insist budget consensus close as talks drag on Manchin backs raising debt ceiling with reconciliation if GOP balks MORE (R-Ky.) soberly reminded his colleagues that they, too, must respect the moment and their opponents. "Frequently new majorities think it's going to be forever,” McConnell said. “Nothing's forever in this country. We have an election every two years right on schedule. I don't think we should act like we'll be in the majority forever."
McConnell was sending a message to his own team, but also to his political opponents and to the American people that he won’t tolerate bragging or overly aggressive, hyperpartisan policymaking. His words might be bluntly translated as this: “We know we won. We aren’t going to be jerks about it.”
Like Obama and Clinton, McConnell’s words were respectful of his country and its citizens above all else.
Not all leaders chose to act as open-minded patriots this past week. Outgoing Senate Minority Leader Harry ReidHarry Mason ReidHarry Reid calls on Democrats to plow forward on immigration Democrats brace for tough election year in Nevada The Memo: Biden's horizon is clouded by doubt MORE (D-Nev.) chose instead to return immediately to the nasty and divisive tone of the campaign season, referring to President-elect Donald TrumpDonald TrumpOvernight Defense & National Security — Presented by Boeing — Milley warns of 'Sputnik moment' for China WSJ publishes letter from Trump continuing to allege voter fraud in PA Oath Keeper who was at Capitol on Jan. 6 runs for New Jersey State Assembly MORE as “a sexual predator who lost the popular vote and fueled his campaign with bigotry and hate.”
Reid lashed out not for the good of his country, but with the clear intent of damaging of his political opponents and re-invigorating an unproductive atmosphere of hyperpartisanship. The fragile atmosphere of healing in Washington quivered in the wake of his words.
One brave Senate colleague rebuked Reid’s statement immediately, and in so doing calmed the political waters inside the Beltway.
"Sen. Reid’s words needlessly feed the very divisiveness that is tearing this country apart,” said Democratic West Virginia Sen. Joe ManchinJoe ManchinBiden to meet House Dems before Europe trip: report 21 House Democrats call for removing IRS bank reporting proposal from spending bill Democrats try to back Manchin off killing paid family leave proposal MORE – a long-time leader in the No Labels movement. “We are Americans first, not Democrats or Republicans first. Unfortunately, there are some who forget that at times like these it is wrong to put party and politics above our country.”
Manchin’s wonderfully nonpartisan, patriotic message swept Reid’s sour words aside and returned the post-election tone in Washington to what it should be: One where both sides can agree that they care about their country, that they are tired of fighting, and that it’s time to talk about goals for this great nation.
With post-election tensions running high across the country, America needs healing and sincere efforts to unite us. We need a respectful, patriotic post-election atmosphere in Washington to shine across the nation. We need more Joe Manchin-style messages and fewer Harry Reid-style smears.
Margaret Kimbrell White is the executive director of No Labels, a national movement dedicated to shared goals and collaborative governing.
The views expressed by authors are their own and not the views of The Hill.