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A welcome R and R from political battle

It was heartening to see the degree of civility apparent the night Vice President Al Gore announced he would “accept the finality” of the Supreme Court’s decision and concede to Texas Gov. George W. Bush.

The bitter contest was finally over, and the words from both candidates, apparently heartfelt, bolstered the notion that we are a people bound by the rule of law and willing, ultimately, to submerge self-interest for the sake of the best interests of the wider culture.

In short, we know how to fight hard and be good sports.

That said, one need not add any further to the flood of platitudes about bipartisanship and changing Washington and working together toward the same goals, and on and on.

That may happen by default. If bipartisanship actually becomes the working model in Washington, it may not be so much because we are burying differences as it is because there are so few substantive differences, or because there is little room for disagreement, given the even split in Congress.

Any bipartisan spirit will also have to contend with serious questions that linger in the wake of the most unusual and closest presidential election in more than 100 years. We may be bound by the rule of law, but our courts have taken a beating in the five-week process that led to Gore’s concession. The votes in Florida -- and the questions about the hand count that was stopped thousands of votes short of completion -- will not disappear. And the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to first stop the count and then to effectively end the process will surely undergo unending scrutiny.

What do we take away from the results of this election other than that we are a rather evenly divided population? What issues will matter most and what factions -- religious conservatives, Green Party activists, moderates tired of fighting -- will have the most influence? The division could force action based on a degree of compromise unthinkable with a clear majority.

Or it could mean a stalemate.

President-elect Bush will need all the goodwill and patience the country and his political colleagues can muster. The signs seem to suggest that the grandly spoken resolve to reach across the aisle and find common ground is extremely vulnerable to what could be the considerable heat of political battle in the coming four years.

But for now, civility is a nice change of pace. We may even grow to like it.

National Catholic Reporter, December 22, 2000