- The Washington Times - Monday, November 1, 2004

Reeling from a bedeviling and costly war on terror that seems both unavoidable and unending, the nation is reaching a fever pitch as it approaches election day. Today voters will determine who is to become the 44th president of the United States. That is, of course, assuming the outcome is clear and uncontested.

Unfortunately, both major parties are preparing for a different scenario — appealing to the courts to intervene for recounts wherever the outcome is close. This could conceivably produce a landscape that would make us nostalgic for the simplicity of the 2000 presidential election.

Imagine a “multi-Florida” scenario wherein election results in three, four, five or more states are fiercely contested for weeks — even months — until exhausted judiciaries finally rule one way or the other. The trouble with this is the same as the trouble with the last presidential election, but more so. It assures that the country will not be united behind the president-elect, regardless of outcome. Thus, whoever assumes the mantle of “44” will attempt to govern a deeply divided nation wherein roughly half the population feel grievously wronged. That does not bode well for the war on terror, domestic issues or any of the other serious challenges facing America at this perilous time.

What can be done about this? Now, with polls showing a dead-even split too close to call, is the time to make a “commitment to unity.”

The parties should give second thought to challenging close calls in the battleground states, since the agony of extended recounts will be deeply unsettling for an already-divided nation. Partisans on both sides should let their leadership know that they will not support a wave of post-election lawsuits, and that public opinion will turn on those who do.

Even more importantly, the record numbers of registered voters who are preparing to cast their votes and hope for the best on Election Day should commit to unity now before the outcome is known. If your candidate wins you can breathe a sigh of relief, and resist the temptation to lord it over those whose candidate lost.

But if your candidate loses you have a special challenge and opportunity. Instead of ranting about the unfairness of the system and vilifying the president-elect, make a commitment to unity. This does not mean you must support all the policies of the winning party, but that you support the democratic process (flawed as it may be) through which the president is elected. It means you support the idea that once chosen, that person becomes president of the entire United States of America.

Our democratic electoral process is far from perfect, and improvements may well be needed. But as President Lincoln reminded us, government “of the people, by the people, and for the people” constitutes the best hope on earth. Once the people have spoken on Election Day, no matter how close the call, let us come together in unity behind the winner — whoever it is. Otherwise, the old saying “united we stand, divided we fall” just may prove to be literally true.

Timothy A. Kelly is associate professor of psychology at Fuller Graduate School of Psychology.

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