I never really had any doubt that the American institutions were strong enough to withstand the election controversy that ended last night. As petty and money-driven as our politicians can seem, sometimes they can be driven to greatness by the situation.
Al Gore certainly rose to the occasion in his concession speech. It not only served the country well with its tone, but it will also keep him in the top rank of contemporary statesmen. He could have voiced his bitterness over the way he lost, but he tried to lead his country to better days, even as he stepped away from national office.
The most heartening thing I heard from President-elect Bush last night was the phrase "Democratic concerns." Republican politicians know how it grates on their rivals when they use "Democrat" as an adjective. "Democrat concerns." Ugh. It's disrespectful, because the name of the party is the Democratic Party. I thought it was a step toward healing and reconciliation to hear George W. Bush use the right words for a change.
The soothing words from both candidates draw an appropriate end to the ordeal. We've had enough divisiveness for one millennium. The election was so close that it came down to one state's electors, and the vote in that state was so close that it had to be decided in the Supreme Court, which was also split as closely as possible. But we let the process play out, and we accept the conclusion even if we disagree.
But even if we want to forget the rancor of the last five weeks, we don't want to forget that many people were disenfranchised by this process. Every vote counts only if every vote is counted, and only if everyone is allowed to vote. The charges of harassment and intimidation must be investigated and the guilty parties, if any, dealt with harshly.
We now depend on Bush and Gore to follow through on their pledges of cooperation and bipartisanship. We're watching closely, and we're not likely to let them get away with doing anything to deepen the division. I think they know this, and that's the source of whatever hope I have that the next four years will be less turbulent than many believe.
The only way to maintain any kind of consensus is for those in charge to be aware that we'll hold them accountable. It starts now, as we find out what kind of diversity there'll be in Bush's Cabinet and staff. Given his narrow margin and his words of last night, I expect it to "look like America," as Clinton's does. I'd hate to be disappointed right off the bat.