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Thursday, November 9, 2000

Is this a great country, or what?

People are in the streets, demanding their right to vote. Our 224-year-old republic still has the vitality to stir us into action when we believe our rights are threatened. The very democratic process we're fighting for has produced legal remedies for our grievances, and we have advocates ready to help us fight the battle.

The two parties have different views of what the remedy for the situation should be. Either the people who marked the wrong box (or boxes) should have known better and are out of luck, or the ballot had an illegal design that caused many voters to mark the wrong box. Either we'll have to live with the Florida recount, however it turns out, or we'll find a way to make it right. A wise judge will look at all the evidence, hear all the testimony, and make a decision we'll live with.

This is so exciting, I can't wait to see what happens next. I'm paralyzed in front of the TV set for hours at a time. (Oh, am I ever glad I work at home!) I get weary at times of the politicos shouting the party line at each other, with the media egging them on. But I can always find a measured, serious discussion on PBS or NPR or somewhere. It's an amazing moment in history, both for those directly involved and the rest of us watching as interested witnesses.

Here's what I wish: that the politicians would step back for awhile and let the process run its course. Let the duly elected authorities in Florida complete their task of counting the votes cast on Tuesday as accurately as humanly possible. Let the voters who believe they were disenfranchised pursue their legal options. Wait as long as it takes, until everyone with a real grievance has been heard, and as many of them as possible have been satisfied.

Bush: Stop leaking your cabinet choices and acting as if you're already the president-elect. Most of all, quit griping about people in Florida who truly believe their vote was taken away from them by a technicality.

Gore: Tell us you'll accept the final totals, and any subsequent court decisions, but don't participate in any lawsuits. It's not your grievance, it's the voters'.

I remember the Watergate hearings in 1974. I followed those proceedings, read about the characters in the drama and pored over the details of the testimony. It was a frightening, fascinating time, and it showed our constitution in action. In the end, it produced a result we could live with, and it gave Nixon the chance to do the country a favor and resign. We came out of it wary of the abuses of power it uncovered, but ready to move forward together.

These are similar circumstances. At some point the men and women we trusted enough to give our votes to will have an opportunity to help unite us and guide us into the next administration.

In spite of everything, we'll have a new president on January 20. Does it matter that we don't know yet who it will be, with the election over and the votes in hand? Not at all. Even if we don't have a decision until 11:59 am on Inauguration Day, we'll still have a smooth, orderly transition of power. And if it takes longer than that, real statesmanship will take over and find a way to deal with it.

Yes, without Nader on the ballot Gore would have won easily. I don't doubt that for a second. I still don't believe this country will have a viable third party in my lifetime, under the current electoral system. But if the results of this election push the Democrats back in the direction of the people who voted for Nader, or wanted to vote for Nader, he will have done the nation a great service and left a meaningful legacy.

If you have to make compromises to win, why not make those compromises with the decent people represented by Ralph Nader and his supporters? These folks have no political axe to grind, no vested interest in the status quo that keeps them from doing what's right for the country. If the Democrats and Republicans think that only 3% of the nation feel that way, they're mistaken. And we'll let them know they're mistaken.

The business of government plods on from day to day, with or without your input and mine. The more we let the politicians know what we want, the better chance we have of getting it. Once in awhile a crisis comes along to test the leadership of the in crowd. The rest of the time, we're part of the process, either by speaking up or by keeping still.

I'm pretty sure we're going to survive the next four years, no matter what happens. We may have to take to the streets or pick up our pens more often, to protect our rights, but that's one of our oldest traditions. Having two strong political parties is a safeguard against one group getting too deeply entrenched in power. We turn over the whole House and a third of the Senate every two years for the same reason.

And when the rival party is in control, we work more passionately to make sure our voices are heard and responded to. It's the up side of losing.

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Come Senators, Congressmen, please heed the call
Don't stand in the doorway, don't block up the hall
For he that gets hurt will be he that has stalled
There's a battle outside and it's ragin'
It'll soon shake your windows and rattle your walls
For the times, they are a-changin'