Observing US:
A column about America,
by Marylaine Block
originally published by
Fox News Online, 1998-2000

#113, November 14, 2000


by Marylaine Block

You know, I don't know of any other time in our history when we voted to split the government so evenly down the middle - the Republicans hanging on by their fingernails to the barest of majorities in the House and maybe the Senate, and the electoral college still waiting on Florida's absentee ballots to decide the presidency. No matter who wins, with Gore winning 49% of the popular vote and Bush 48%, the new president will have to understand that more people voted against him than for him.

What this means, I think, is that everybody who won will need a healthy dose of modesty, because nobody got a mandate for their agenda. What's more, they're going to have to defuse a lot of anger, since voters from both parties are sure they got robbed. The winners are going to have to walk gently, exhibit grace under pressure.

They could start by paying attention to the candidates' biggest applause lines.

Republicans need to think long and hard about the fact that Bush's most enthusiastically received lines were "I have no stake in the bitter political quarrels in Washington," and "I can work with both parties to get things done." That suggests this election was a rejection of partisan headhunts. We want our elected representatives working together to solve our problems. (Unfortunately, so far the "Uniter not a Divider" is 0 for 1, insisting that he is the president-elect before the absentee ballots are even counted.)

Democrats, on the other hand, are going to have to understand the appeal of another Bush tag line: "He trusts government. I trust the people." The line resonates with us because, while we want government to help us with the big things, like health care and social security, most of us sense that the government already does more than it can possibly do well. Many of us clearly agree that government can let us sweat the small stuff - do we really need federal regulations for the constituent fiber of wool?

However, since both parties promised to shore up social security, reform our schools, make prescription drugs affordable for seniors, and pass a patients' bill of rights, Congress and the President do have a mandate to solve those problems. If you put together Nader's voters and John McCain's voters with Al Gore's promise to sign the McCain-Feingold campaign finance reform bill, you could also argue there's a mandate for campaign finance reform.

There is no mandate for any specific solution, though, which means members of Congress will have to pool their best ideas and put together versions of each of these proposals that both parties can agree on.

They can't do that peacefully unless both parties acknowledge the legitimate concerns of even their favorite bogeymen: NRA members, NOW members, the Christian right, trial lawyers, etc. I think it should be a basic ground rule that neither side should write legislation that affronts the other party's most deeply held principles, or stiffs their constituencies. A campaign finance reform bill that makes unions ineligible to contribute won't pass, nor will a tobacco regulation bill so stringent that it could force tobacco companies out of business, and attempts to pass such laws would simply generate more ill will.

The manner in which Congress does its work matters. Voters applauded loudly at Bush's line: "people of good will can disagree." Do you suppose we could we go back to having our senators and representatives argue politely? It might sound quaint when a senator says, "The honorable gentleman from Iowa perhaps does not understand thatů" But it sure beats calling each other traitors and scumbags.

Messy as this election is, it doesn't need to be a disaster. What we voters have done is remind our politicians that elections aren't about party - they're about US. If our president and Congress genuinely cooperate to do the few things voters have agreed need doing, they could knock down the wall of public cynicism that has separated us from our government for the past 40 years.

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