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Jewish World Review Dec. 14, 2000 / 17 Kislev, 5761

Bob Greene

Bob Greene
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There is a word for what the country is going through -- A NUMBER of phrases have been used to describe what has been going on in this country since Nov. 7: constitutional crisis, madness, outrage, chaos.

But there is another way to look upon the events that have transpired since Election Day, and another word to sum up the United States as the country has shown itself during these long days and nights:


Because there in fact has been something quite magnificent about how the nation has operated during these five extremely difficult weeks. And in years to come -- once the momentary hurts inflicted upon both sides subside, and the bilateral wounds are allowed to heal -- Americans will look back upon what has taken place during the dwindling days of the year 2000, and will have reason to feel great pride.

Think about it:

With the presidency in the balance, and the political parties bitterly divided, with emotions frayed and tempers rising, soldiers were not in the streets, and no one seriously even considered the possibility that they would be. In other countries, during days like these, the military would have been called out to protect the interests of the party in power. Not here -- not a chance.

Every voice has been heard, from the profane to the learned. If someone has had something to say about what has been occurring, that person's words got said. Sometimes voices were raised, and sometimes intemperate accusations were blurted out -- at which point other voices called for reason. As noisy as these days have been, the understanding was: No one will be silenced. If you think the other side is in the wrong, say it.

Powerful people worked hard to secure a victory for their side -- and they knew that they faced powerful opponents on the other side. Sometimes they lied -- on both sides -- and sometimes they wheedled and spoke foolishly -- on both sides. What was the remedy for this? The remedy was that their lies were pointed out, as was their wheedling and their foolishness. In the clear air of a free country, being able to argue openly was the strongest guarantee that our way of government would survive.

The courts met endlessly -- and often it seemed that each court decision contradicted the last. Every time a court would rule, the side that lost would immediately challenge the ruling -- but would not defy it. That distinction has been the key. If you believe you are right, challenge a court as adamantly and as persuasively as you can -- but don't even think about disobeying what the court has ordered.

The two men at the center of all of this understood that, regardless of the outcome, the person who came in second-best would not be punished, other than by losing out on the opportunity to be president this time around. He would not be imprisoned; he would not be banished to some other place. He -- and his party members -- knew that they would get another chance to elect representatives to the national legislature two years from now -- and another chance to try for the White House in four years. This has been a life and death struggle only in symbolic terms; in real terms, the loser has nothing to fear.

In the cities and towns of the United States, life has gone on as if there is no cause for worry -- because there isn't. The citizens have been free to pay as much or as little attention to this as they have chosen -- they can obsess about the details if they want, or they can ignore the process. Either way, they have been able to rest easy in the knowledge that our system of government will without question endure and prosper.

Beneath all the turmoil has been the calm understanding that we, as a country, can handle this. Crisis? Maybe -- but if we have been tested during the weeks since Election Day, a very strong case can be made that we have passed with honors. Half the country will be satisfied with the man who ascends to the White House, and half will be disappointed. Perhaps we will regret that no one has ever figured out a way to more neatly, more conveniently, solve the problems with which we have been confronted. Yet the men who founded this nation never guaranteed neatness or convenience. Other countries are run much more tidily, with much less public turmoil. Freedom, of necessity, is less easy; freedom is hard work.

When those rental trucks full of ballots drove up the highways in Florida, on their way to the state capital, they were guarded as if they contained not just pieces of paper and cardboard, but the most precious currency to be found in all the land.

They did.

JWR contributor Bob Greene is a novelist and columnist. Send your comments to him by clicking here.


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