- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 22, 2000

It is curious that the recent election has caused us to see a nation divided. Granted, we are divided almost exactly evenly between Bush and Gore voters. The famous red and blue election night map shows us divided geographically between city and country, between the coasts (and Great Lakes region) and the rest.

And, of course, at the moment we are fairly evenly divided between those who think Al Gore is trying to steal the election and those who see nothing untoward about his post-election conduct.

But many of these divisions are more apparent than real. While Mr. Gore won the cities and Mr. Bush won the countryside vote, still millions of city folk voted for Mr. Bush while millions of country people voted for Mr. Gore. Likewise, Mr. Gore got his share of National Rifle Association members, while Mr. Bush was competitive in union households. Wherever we live, probably three or four out of 10 of our neighbors voted for the other guy. How separating can such a divide be?

Overall, this is not a moment when the country is fiercely divided by great political issues. Both Messrs. Bush and Gore want to subsidize the cost of prescription drugs and cut taxes; they merely haggle over whether the programs should be big or bigger. They both say they want a strong defense, free trade and a firm American role in the world. The great fights of the last and next political seasons focus on the enviable question of how to divvy up the surplus booty. The time-tested political answer will be: split the difference.

So why do we feel so violently divided? Why are so many people almost physically ill when they think about this election? Most elections, even close ones, give us at least a temporary sense of coming together through a fair decision process. In 1992 Bill Clinton only got 42 percent of the vote. But by Christmas more than 80 percent of the public was wishing him well in his new presidency; it's the American way.

But if Mr. Gore should gain the presidency at least half of the country will be hard-pressed to conjure up a patriotic thought on his behalf and will profoundly resent Americans who can. Other elections have been stolen. After the fact, Jack Kennedy used to joke (and most people laughed along with him) that his dad bought him a victory, but not a landslide. Dead men voting in Chicago is considered a colorful part of American culture.

But I think what is sticking in the craw this time is the brazen, slick, daylight heisting of the votes. Some things should be done in the dark and out of sight, in respect of our sensibilities. Forcing us to be witness to the debasement includes us, by our passivity, in the crime. As citizens we have a fiduciary duty to protect our republic; and in our hearts we know it. But it is hard to find a means of acting to stop the affront. In this regard, Mr. Gore has learned from Mr. Clinton that when he violates the nation's values in front of the public staring us down, daring us to do something about it our failure to defend ourselves morally weakens us for the next time. And there will always be a next time.

So herein lies the danger in permitting a Gore presidency. It will further enfeeble our civic virtue and vigor. In the interest of prosperity (and perhaps because many people didn't want to reward his opponents who seemed unworthy), Americans put up with much Clinton misconduct that we shouldn't have let pass. If we now acquiesce to a Gore presidency we will take a dangerous further step towards routinely accepting the unacceptable.

Like the Old West towns that got in the habit of being bullied by a few men with fast guns, we will soon stop being a citizenry, and turn into a mere collection of people hiding behind our doors.

Most Americans, if we think about it, would reject such a condition. So the division that counts in America today is between those few who consciously are indifferent, and the rest of us. In the next days and weeks, all of us who have seen the light must seek out our neighbors and friends who remain in the dark. We must not be afraid to force an unpleasant but necessary conversation.

In the Old West, the bullies left town when the townsfolk gathered in forthright and public opposition. Today, the much-despised pollsters will be measuring the public pulse. When our side of the divide hits about 60 percent, Mr. Gore and his men will ride off into the sunset. And the new dawn will be ours.

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