It Didn't Have To End This Way

Good people did bad things in this Presidential election, and the nation will suffer the consequences. The basic institutions of democracy have been tarnished. The dignity of the office of the Presidency and those who pursue it has been diminished. And the common ground that unites Americans of differing political beliefs has been eroded in a bitter display of partisanship.

American voters have repeatedly signaled their wish to be governed from the moderate center. This election was no different in that respect. But the advent of the endless campaign process and the ruthless pursuit of victory at any cost have elbowed out public concerns for fairness of outcome and balance in policy. The result is a growing polarization that threatens sensible compromise and a coarseness in political discourse that casts those who disagree as evil, unjust, or ignorant.

In Florida, for example, Gore supporters charged election officials who favored Bush of intentionally disenfranchising voters, while Bush supporters accused local canvassing-board members of deliberately invalidating votes cast by members of the military overseas. In the end, the Florida courts, the state legislature, the county electoral boards, as well as every decision, was reduced to a partisan interpretation. Rational solutions were denied. Compromise was ignored.

Throughout this agonizing process, the public waited for some wise person or some disinterested institution to step in and end the dispute in a manner that would reunite the nation. They longed for a conciliator--someone or something that could bridge the gap between differences, heal the open wounds of the election, and move on to the governance of the nation. That should have been the U.S. Supreme Court--and when its final decision also appeared partisan, those wounds became graver still. For 35 days, common sense cried out for a statewide recount of votes based on a commonly agreed-upon standard. But the political system was too partisan, and the candidates too bent on a victory to get there. The result is a win with little credibility and little legitimacy--and a President with much-reduced authority.

The U.S. must begin to learn to live with peace and prosperity. There is no cold war external threat to unite Americans anymore. The result has been an indulgence in the politics of vendetta. Normal political differences have been transformed into ideological crusades. Civil politics has degenerated into a politics of personal destruction. The poison has even entered the highest reaches of the judiciary. Democrats vilified U.S. Supreme Court nominee Robert H. Bork, a conservative intellectual, as far back as 1987, while the Republicans referred to the Florida Supreme Court as bunch of political hacks just weeks ago.

This cannot continue. The U.S. cannot enjoy the rule of law with a politicized judiciary that makes its decisions based on partisan politics. No one can govern when winner-take-all political parties refuse to respect their opponents and negotiate reasonable compromises. There can be no cohesive society if its citizens don't respect the political positions of their neighbors. Unless this changes, we risk the complete disenfranchisement of the vast middle of the American public as their disillusionment with the political process becomes ever more justified. We must return to a common ground before it is too late.

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