Jewish World Review Nov. 15, 2000 / 17 Mar-Cheshvan 5761
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
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
JWR contributor Morton Kondracke is executive editor of Roll Call, the newspaper of Capitol Hill. Send your comments to him by clicking here.
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