In January 20, 2001, the people of this storied nation will likely hold their collective breaths as they view either George W. Bush or Al Gore taking the oath of office for President of the United States. Whether Bush or Gore, the new president will take the office under the darkest clouds of suspicion since the soiled Rutherford B. Hayes election of 1876.
This, of course, is assuming that this historical melodrama has no further twists of irony, and that the final certified Florida vote will provide an electoral majority. This presupposes that rogue electors will not vote contrary to the expressed popular will of their respective states, and that the Congress shall accept the slate of electors pledged to the Florida victor.
The Electoral College is a Hamiltonian relic wrought with dangers and ought to be removed by a Constitutional Amendment. The fact that this is the only legal avenue for removal of this political time bomb represents a major problem. To propose an amendment requires a two-thirds majority vote of the Congress or a two-thirds vote of the states calling for a Constitutional Convention. Ratification requires a three-quarters vote of the state legislatures or vote by the conventions of three-quarters of the states. Neither of these supermajorities seems attainable during this period of inflamed internal divisions and political uproar. The obvious need for uniform voting procedures, tabulations and campaign finance reform may also prove casualties of the current electrically charged political atmosphere.
Arguably, Bush and Gore did not present the American electorate with choices between the "Best and the Brightest." Some respected observers maintain that they may well have offered the least palatable options since the less than sterling choices offered in 1920 or 1924. Be that as it may, one of these two men will assume the presidency and with it the near-Herculean burdens of unifying a cynical, divided people and their partisan, gridlocked Congress. If, as President John F. Kennedy so eloquently suggested, a crisis contains the dual characters of danger and of opportunity, then it is likely that the core mettle of either Gore or Bush will be severely tested during this time of crisis governance.
A Bush Presidency
President George W. Bush will have to overcome the perception that he is a political lightweight, a "not ready for prime time player." He will have to transform this into an image of a steady reasoned leader, both willing and able to cross the political aisles to forge working majorities and unite Republicans and Democrats.
A Bush Presidency appears to have a distinct advantage over a Gore Presidency, as the Republicans will maintain control of both houses of Congress. This, however, is largely an illusory majority, for in both the House (220-213) and the Senate (51-49), the majorities are razor thin and potentially fragile. Clearly, there exists a highly fertile political garden for the anxious seeds of governmental gridlock.
A Bush Administration will carry the stigma of having the fourth Republican President (previously including John Q. Adams, Hayes and Benjamin Harrison) to ascend into office over their Democratic opponent after losing the popular vote, but holding a suspect electoral majority. Additionally, it will not be easy to neutralize the beliefs of a substantial number of citizens that uncounted votes, invalidated ballots (resulting from confusing, and perhaps illegal, ballot design), raw partisan political decision-making by election officials and inflammatory rhetoric have wrought a tainted victory.
George Bush has often repeated the phrase that he is "a uniter, and not a divider." In a very real sense, his success or failure as president may well rest on the validity of that often espoused assertion.
President Bush would be well advised to emulate the Eisenhower and Kennedy administrations' brilliant inclusion of respected opposition operatives into his governance team. The appointment of Democrats of the stature of former Senators George Mitchell and Sam Nunn, Governor Mario Cuomo, and Secretary Robert Rubin would bring on board respected and talented statesmen, while building bridges to embittered opposition forces. Civility and compromise must be the benchmark of this president's approach. These are potent assets, all too rare on the contemporary scene, and they can be most disarming and effective. This is especially true when exercised by a political majority toward their political opposition.
The third leg in this political tripod approach for an effective Bush Presidency requires a moderation of some of his previously announced political positions. Prime areas literally leap to the political agenda forefront. The protection of the environment, deficit reduction and national heath care are pressing issues that lend themselves to negotiated legislative compromises. The front pages of our newspapers and the screens of our televisions resonate with mounting evidence of the serious degradation to our endangered environment. A move by Bush to reasoned protective measures is both politically wise and logically sound. Deficit reduction must be addressed if Commander Bush is to steady the economic ship of state as it traverses troubled waters. He must sail toward greater deficit reduction appropriations and tact away from the tempest of massive tax rebates. Finally, Bush must be willing to take steps to create a universal health coverage plan, one that at least provides for government partnership with private programs to ensure that all of our citizens have access to heath coverage. It remains a disturbing paradox and an ethical blight that the wealthiest nation on earth is the only industrialized nation in the entire world that does not offer a national heath system for all of its people.
The aforementioned steps are not beyond the capacity of George Bush to enact. Absent similarly substantive movements, a Bush Administration will find itself mired in muck and can expect summary citizen judgment at the polls in 2004. We have been told that, "Where there is no vision, the people perish." Let us hope the self-proclaimed "compassionate conservative" will rise to the challenge and implement visionary leadership.
A Gore Presidency
President Gore will have to erase the perception that he is a programmed opportunist, lacking in sincerity. He will have to emerge as a likable, flexible leader capable of exercising candor and willing to receive input from the opposition. A Gore Presidency will have the advantage of having won both the popular and electoral majorities. He will, however, be facing a GOP-controlled Congress. Even with the fragile majorities the Republicans hold, the weeds of gridlock could be well nourished in these conflicting governmental fields.
A Gore Administration will, however, carry the stigma of Florida mischief. Many citizens remain convinced that a Democratic legal blitzkrieg, ballot alterations and/or fraud during recounts and blatant demagoguery pickpocketed the Florida election from Bush. They also see Gore as the heir to continued Clintonism. Al Gore has suggested that there may be a difference in the cold, programmed public persona and the warm receptive private person he is. His success as president probably rests, to a substantive degree, on his ability to reveal and exercise that other Al Gore.
President Gore would be well served by an intense and sincere effort to enlist the skills of Republicans of the stature of former General Colin Powell, Senators Bob Dole and Warren Rudman and Secretary Jack Kemp. This would offer credible links to a seething opposition party in control of both the Congress and the Supreme Court. Humility and patience must be the benchmark of this president's style. A contrast from the razzle dazzle approach of the Clinton presidency would be welcomed by the entrenched Republicans. This might well provide a cornucopia of goodwill to be harvested through effective leadership.
The last side of this triangle political offense for an effective Gore Administration game plan will be the shifting to the right on some of Gore's previously proclaimed policy positions. Rising to the surface are the issues of social security, abortion and military readiness and deployment. The graying of America and the population projections make it clear Social Security must have innovative changes if it is to survive. Individual investment options via Federal Commission guidelines and regulations offer the potential of a more fruitful return on contributions and a more self-sufficient program. Gore must be willing to agree to reasoned amendments. The FDA's approval of the RU-486 pill changes the public face of abortion, and dramatically reduces the need for late-term abortions. It would serve President Gore well to accept ethical limitations on this controversial practice. There is a developing consensus that America alone cannot police the world. Arguably, our allies have willingly let Uncle Sam carry more than his fair share of the costs of these actions. A cooperative foreign policy approach would allow for a shrinking of the size while our armed forces are upgraded, requiring our friends to assume their fair share of genocide prevention and democracy stabilization in a rapidly changing, dynamic world.
The previously suggested strategies are in the best interests of this painfully divided nation as well as in the best interests of a successful Gore Presidency. They are well within the scope of a Gore Administration's capacity to implement. A failure to exercise humility, candor and courage will insure a one-term presidency.
A wise philosopher suggested that courage is "the footstool of the Virtues, upon which they stand." Hopefully the appealing, private person Gore speaks of will emerge and allow him to exercise substantive leadership.
& & & lt;i & Jerry Hughes, a former Washington state Senator, is a professor of government at Gonzaga University. & lt;/i & & lt;/center &