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Jewish World Review Nov. 15, 2000 / 17 Mar-Cheshvan 5761

Morton Kondracke

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With nation split, leaders must reach across party divide -- THE AMERICAN PEOPLE and the national government are split down the middle politically. The question is, will their leaders take this as a command for bipartisan statesmanship, or continued political warfare?

The stakes are high: The presidency is still up for grabs in the Florida recount and the House and Senate margins of control are so close that Congress' ability to get anything done remains in doubt.

On the other hand, the policy differences between the parties are not profound. They concern the size of tax cuts and the manner of Social Security and Medicare funding, not slavery or the future of democracy.

So, the next president - whether it's Vice President Al Gore or Texas Gov. George W. Bush (R) - ought to make it his first order of business to reassure the other side that he is willing to reach out to the other side and end the partisan savagery that has poisoned the atmosphere in Washington for the past decade.

The first test will be the presidential recount. Neither Bush nor Gore could be expected to give up the presidency without a check on the accuracy of a 1,800-vote margin out of 5.8 million votes cast in Florida.

On the other hand, the two candidates and their aides should avoid the kind of rancorous conflict that has characterized various recent contested Congressional elections.

The 1996 contest between former Rep. Bob Dornan (R) and Rep. Loretta Sanchez (D) in California's 46th district wasn't resolved until February 1998. A challenge to Sen. Mary Landrieu's (D-La.) 1996 election wasn't over until October 1997. Ill will still exists over the Democratic House's overturning of the result of the 1984 election in Indiana's 8th district.

If such a fierce combatant as Richard Nixon could forgo a challenge to possibly fraudulent voting in Illinois that cost him the 1960 election, Bush or Gore - whichever loses the recount - ought to be willing to stop short of an extended challenge in Florida.

But already Democrats want to protest misprinted and hard-to-handle ballots in Palm Beach and the Rev. Jesse Jackson began raising civil rights complaints about police checks in Tampa. Republicans doubtless can come up with countervailing grounds for challenge.

The danger is that a politically divided country could become a truly polarized one if leaders of both parties let their partisanship overcome their sense of responsibility.

This would be a tragedy after what was, essentially, a well-fought campaign that did credit to both Gore and Bush. It was a campaign fought largely on issues and questions of qualification. There was character criticism but not character assassination.

Critics of Gore might say that, with a strong economy, he should have coasted to victory. Indeed, exit polls showed that by 65 to 31 percent, voters said that the country was headed in the right direction.

By 56 to 41 percent, they said they believe the country needs to "stay on course" rather than have "a fresh start."

On the other hand, Gore had the legacy of President Clinton's ethical lapses hanging around his neck. Sixty-eight percent of voters said Clinton would be remembered in history for his scandals and by 62 to 33 percent, these voters supported Bush.

Gore trailed Bush in national polls for most of 1999 and seemed slightly behind even a week out from the election - leading pundits like me to mistakenly predict a solid Bush victory.

But Gore closed the margin, partly by organizing African-American turnout that surpassed Clinton's performances in 1992 and 1996.

Clinton received 84 and 83 percent of the black vote, respectively, in those years. Gore scored 90 percent and outstripped Clinton's showing in all the major battleground states.

On the other side, critics of Bush can say that if he'd spent less time trying to upset Gore in California and had devoted more time to Florida, he might not be in danger of losing the election.

Also, some critics say, had he named Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Ridge (R) as his running mate, he might have won that state's 23 electoral votes and cinched the election.

On the other hand, he took on an incumbent party in a time of peace and prosperity and may have scored an Electoral College victory even if he narrowly lost the popular vote.

Exit polls show that the public is divided on the two candidates' issues. They agree with Gore on prescription drugs and school vouchers and Bush on Social Security reform and across-the-board tax cuts.

The lesson of the exit polls, and the election, is that there is room for agreements on major issues if elected leaders will try to achieve them.

JWR contributor Morton Kondracke is executive editor of Roll Call, the newspaper of Capitol Hill. Send your comments to him by clicking here.


11/07/00: The Envelope, Please:Bush Beats Gore, GOP Holds Hill
11/03/00: Parties appeal to two 'gospels'
11/01/00: Lurking in the shadows
10/26/00: What's Gore's Social Security plan?
10/18/00: While Bush, Gore debate surplus, Congress spends it
10/16/00: Two debates leave lots of questions
10/03/00: What questions should be debated?
09/28/00: Gore and Bush should prepare to lead
09/19/00: Bush let values issue slip away
08/25/00: Gore hands center to Bush
08/22/00: AlGore, look to future, not to Bubba
08/08/00: 2000 race could leave high road for low
08/03/00: Convention must point Bush to center
08/01/00: GOP Readies 'Debt Lockbox' As 2000 Strategy
07/27/00: Cheney adds heft to GOP ticket
07/25/00: Foreign, Defense Policy Deserves Full 2000 Debate
07/20/00: Truman Show: Gore Replays 1948, But Bush Isn't Dewey
07/18/00: Bush Must Fight Gore's Drug Plan As 'Bad Medicine'
07/13/00: Mexico's Election Supports U.S. Action On NAFTA, Bailout
07/10/00: Abortion is good for something --- just ask AlGore
07/06/00: Meet Steve Ricchetti, Bubba's secret weapon
06/30/00: AlGore is down, but is he out?
06/27/00: Social programs caught in election-year game of one-up
06/22/00: Congress Is Near Flunking a Test On School Reform
06/16/00: Doting on the grandparents
06/13/00: On Stem Cells, Bush Has Wrong Pro-Life Stance
06/08/00: Has Gore Caught Bush?
05/26/00: PNTR Vote Could Tell Which Party Fits 'New Economy'
05/23/00: The secret to winning the election: Economic programs
05/18/00: Gore should regroup
05/16/00: McCain's Support Is Tepid, But Lets Bush Focus on Gore
05/11/00: Voters need wonk training
05/09/00: Bush Could Score With Charge That Gore's Too Partisan
04/28/00: Reno's force aids Clinton, not Elian
04/25/00: Should Clinton be indicted?
04/24/00: Can Gore win on Bush tax cuts?
04/18/00: Levin's 'bridge' key to China trade?
04/11/00: Congress, U.S. Voters Still Aren't Ready For Campaign Reform
04/06/00: Bush, Gore Silent As Popular Culture Gets Ever Coarser
03/30/00: Is 2000 Like 1948, 1976 or 1960? Or Is This Unparalleled?
03/28/00: Will Bush, Gore Go for a Better Way To Pick Nominees?
03/23/00: Medicare cutbacks bleed hospitals
03/20/00: Chances Improve That China Trade Will Pass Congress
03/16/00: Lieberman as veep would help Gore
03/14/00: Can Bush, McCain Unite to Beat Gore?
03/09/00: Can GOP Forge Unity After Nasty McCain-Bush Race?
03/07/00: What accounts for McCain's excesses?
03/02/00: 'Debate' Proved Gore Is This Year's Best Gut-Fighter
02/29/00: Surprises! The 2000 GOP race is full of it
02/25/00: Voters want centrist in White House
02/23/00: Gore would hit McCain's record
02/15/00: Will negativity hurt McCain in S.C.?
02/10/00: How hard should Bush hit McCain?
02/08/00: Bush must retool his entire campaign
01/27/00: Could Gore beat Bush as Truman beat Dewey?
01/20/00: Big New Surplus Estimates Could Alter 2000 Politics
12/21/99: Bush improves, everyone panders
12/16/99: Prospects improve for campaign reform
12/14/99: Riots raise free trade as 2000 issue
12/10/99: Gore won GOP 'debate' in N.H.
12/07/99: Election pits Bush cuts vs. Medicare boost
12/03/99: Can race be a constructive issue in 2000?
11/19/99: White House race may be best in decades
11/16/99: Where is Bush on health care fight?
11/11/99: Will TV stop profiteering from politics?
11/09/99: Is GOP isolationist, or just partisan?
11/04/99: Gore, Bradley Run Opposite Races On Style, Substance
11/01/99: GOP, Clinton could reach deal swiftly
10/27/99: Bush to fight 'culture wars' -- positively
10/21/99: Porter, Mack: heroes on medical research
10/19/99: Gore scores among party big shots, but polls go South
10/14/99: Bush critiques could help GOP Congress
10/12/99: Congress can save health care from ruin
10/07/99: Will gun-control cause the GOP to shoot itself in the foot?
10/05/99: Gore moves: Desperate but necessary
10/01/99: Fox, Armstrong make case for NIH
09/28/99: Dems' race brightens Bush's chances
09/23/99: East Timor deflates `Clinton Doctrine'
09/21/99: Buchanan v. Bush? Yeah right
09/17/99: Candidates turn attention to poverty
09/15/99: Bush's education problem
09/09/99: Budget makes 2000 an `issues' election
09/07/99:Airport rage increases, with good reason
09/02/99: U.S. future up for grabs in 2000
08/31/99: U.S. Capitol needs visitor's center -- soon
08/24/99: Will 2000 be the year of the foreign crisis?
08/19/99: Neither party has upper hand for '99
08/17/99: Ford gets freedom medal one month early
08/12/99: There's time to catch Bush, say Gore aides
08/10/99: Rudy, Hillary try much-needed makeovers
08/09/99: GOP must launch new probe of Chinagate
08/02/99: Pols blow fiscal smoke on budget surplus
08/02/99: One campaign reform should pass: disclosure
07/27/99: Gore leads Bush in policy proposals

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