Many important decisions have been postponed pending the outcomes of today's election. And study and compromise will be required in nearly all of those decisions, whether about the long-term health of Medicare and Social Security or California's persistent budget woes.
Voters need to choose candidates prepared to do that work rather than put forth simplistic slogans.
Lee Hamilton, who spent 34 years in Congress and now directs the Center on Congress at Indiana University, summed it up nicely in an essay: "Ordinary citizens -- you and I -- have it in our power to put our political dialogue back on track.
"The first step is to understand that in a politically and socially diverse country, with two houses of Congress and a president required to pass legislation, compromise isn't a luxury. It is almost always a necessity. Too few politicians seem to grasp this.
"So if we want things to improve, if we don't like intense partisanship and political game-playing, then we must choose officials with an instinct for collaboration. And we, as their constituents, have to give them room to craft legislation with broad appeal."
We have a few other thoughts on how individual citizens can help improve the system:
Be discerning about the petitions you sign so there will be fewer state propositions. As we've suggested before, don't sign a petition unless you fully understand the proposal. And chances are you won't get the full explanation from a paid signature gatherer pushing a pen at you in front of the supermarket. Most initiatives are financed by a few individuals or organizations with a lot to gain from their idea.
Stay informed through the year and don't wait until the final few days to try to understand the complex issues. Be wary of slate mailers -- which candidates simply pay to get their names on. Don't rely on any single source for information; be a critical thinker who researches multiple views.
At least once in your life, get involved in a political campaign, whether for a cause or a candidate. Walk some precincts or work the phones. The experience will give you a new respect for the process and the people who work so hard to get into office to serve.
Communicate with your elected representatives. Tell them what they are doing well and not so well. If a candidate you supported disappointed you by using deceptive mailers during this campaign, tell him or her.
As Hamilton comments: "Vigorous debate has been a constant in American history, and let's hope it always will be. ...
"But healthy debate requires other ingredients, too: Respect for one's adversary. Tolerance of different beliefs and perspectives. Graciousness. A fundamental respect for facts. The humility to recognize that we might be wrong and the integrity to admit it."
Please vote today. And then in the days after, please follow the actions of your representatives and hold them accountable.