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January 2nd, 2013

Two Months To Heal


Seven-hundred and thirty-three million dollars. That’s how much the Washington Post estimates the two candidates spent on television advertising during this presidential election. Of that, just shy of $658 million was spent on negative ads, both President Barack Obama and Mitt Romney choosing to use their money to tear one another down about 90% percent of the time. And did it work? We feel divided, bitter, and cynical. (Note: The total spent by candidates, parties, and outside groups in this election will add up to some $2.6 billion.)

This morning, I suspect, half of us are happy and half disappointed or angry. It’s now clear that Barack Obama will serve a second term as President of the United States. But unlike in 2008, when he rode into office awash in a sea of triumphant enthusiasm, when the electorate, though perhaps divided, seemed generally to take pride in electing the nation’s first black president, 2012 finds Obama limping across the finish line, inheriting a bitterly divided nation with oppressively grave fiscal problems and a legislature that, by nearly all accounts, remains dysfunctional.

There is no antidote to help us heal quickly after such a bruising battle. Though it seems silly when we step back a bit, even our Thanksgiving dinners may be rife with partisan tension. Certain classmates or coworkers are probably as upset as you are happy with the results, or vice versa, and studies show that election results can have actual impacts on our mental and physical health.

So what can we do to move on?

First, recognize the sincere feelings and good intentions of those on the other side, whichever side that is, and don’t pick fights. Two of my close friends worked on rival sides, each with quite serious professional stakes should their candidate lose. Since I know both individuals well, I was able to be proud of their achievements and root for both of them, even though I knew one would be feeling pretty low today. Try to remember that those who believe differently from you aren’t bad or malicious, just different. Respect those differences. Or, if you can’t, don’t bring them up at all.

Next, forget about politics for a while and get involved in something else. I write regularly on religion and culture, but for the past few months I’ve focused almost exclusively on politics and the presidential election. Like many Americans, I reached election fatigue months ago, but I was still drawn in day after day to the most miniscule change in polls, captivated by what some crazy surrogate or candidate said or did, and the endless analysis by talking heads on TV. We need a break from it all. Read some books you’ve been putting off. Catch up on a show you’ve missed.
Catch up with some friends over a shared meal. Go to Mass. Just do something, anything, to cleanse your mind.

Finally, when they weren’t busy predicting gloom and destruction should the other side win, both sides espoused some pretty lofty goals during the campaign. Consider what you might do to make them a reality. Concerned about alleviating poverty? Support your local Catholic Charities agency by volunteering or making a donation. Was immigration your issue? Find a local refugee services agency and see if they need help. Were you championing education? Look for local groups that offer after-school tutoring. Hunger? Volunteer at a food pantry. The point is, we all believe in something worthy. Part of our national healing should involve putting those beliefs into action and contributing to a society that looks out for the marginalized and uplifts the poor.

I attended college in New Hampshire, home of the first-in-the-nation presidential primary. In November 2004, George W. Bush won re-election. Just two months later, before the President’s inauguration, I introduced a U.S Senator at a speech to Granite State voters. The race had already begun. Campaigns and politicking are endless. But we have a couple of months now where we can step away, relax, refresh, and focus not on the horse race, but on the mission of making our country a more just place.

[Published on: November 7, 2012]

The Author : Michael O'Loughlin
Mike O'Loughlin is a writer living in Washington, D.C., covering religion, politics, and culture. In addition to Busted Halo, his writing appears in the Advocate, National Catholic Reporter, Foreign Policy, Religion & Politics, and America. He's also appeared on Fox News and MSNBC. Follow him on twitter at @mikeoloughlin.
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Please note that the editorial staff reserves the right to not post comments it deems to be inappropriate and/or malicious in nature, as well as edit comments for length, clarity and fairness.
  • Elizabeth

    Thank you for pointing out the many ways in which a person can do something to help our fellow brethren in need, based on one of our electoral concerns. It saddens me however that the most fundamental of needs – protection of the unborn did not even receive lip service. So here goes. Concerned about the unborn? Volunteer at your local pro-life office or attend a forty days for life event. Oh and finally- Concerned about religious freedom? Support one of the corporations , companies or family run businesses who have to defend themselves against a mandate that forces them to check their churches’ teachings at the door or risk their very existence.

  • Dr. MTJ

    Oh yea of little faith Tom!! Sling mud when your ability to communicate leaves little but to create the tone of divisiveness. Thankfully, others discern your ignorance of the facts.

  • Tom R.

    From where comes the divisiveness has been in this country for a long time. Black vs. white, E. Coast v. W. Coast, Catholics v. Protestants, Us v them. Obama has been trying to bring us together. Take a look at the audience when Obama gave his victory speech and compare it to the audience for Romney’s speech declaring his defeat. What does it say to you?

  • Rachel G.

    Did you guys even read this article? Prayerfully consider how divisive all of your comments are to such a well-written, well-meaning article meant to inspire us to look beyond the winners and losers of this election.

    Thank you, Michael. A great perspective.

  • Phil Fox Rose

    To Tom’s comments, it is a classic phenomenon that one who carries a particular trait projects it on others and hates it in them but does not recognize it in themselves. This mantra among Republicans that Obama is divisive is simply absurd. Over and over, he has gestured towards unity and collaboration. It was a acknowledged strategy of the Republicans to be as divisive and obstructionist as possible to make him a failed president.

  • Roma Turner

    Not recognizing the division and difference is what cost the Republican’s the last election and this one. Just sayin’

  • Tom

    Of course there was division/difference of opinion about Bush’s performance.

    Obama’s strategy was to divide us against ourselves – that is a huge difference – to the peril of our future.

    When/who will bring this great country back together? Don’t see ANY leadership – on EITHER side……

  • Becky

    Because the nation was never divided on political lines before? The nation wasn’t divided over Bush’s performance?

  • Tom

    Just to clarify – President Obama did not “inherit” a divided nation as indicated in this article.

    He CREATED a divided nation.

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