Between the Lines

Between the Lines by David Lias "Our long national nightmare is over."

No, those aren't the words of George W. Bush after Tuesday night's U.S. Supreme Court decision.

Tuesday's ruling has put a stop to the month-long process of appeals, recounts and court cases, and apparently has determined that Bush, not Gore, will be our next president of the United States.

The quote I've mentioned above could very well have been said by Bush this week.

But it wasn't. They are the words of Gerald Ford, in his first speech after assuming the office of president following Richard Nixon's resignation.

Ford proved to be just the right person this nation needed at a very critical time in its history.

George W. Bush would do good to follow Ford's lead.

We've all tried to have a laugh or two in this past month of indecision, but when all is said and done, the first presidential election of the new millennium has left us all exhausted, frustrated and ideologically divided.

Ford obviously assumed the office of chief executive under a very difficult situation, because he hadn't even been elected to office of vice president, let alone president. But he understood something that I think Bush should come to realize.

Ford, in his acceptance speech, said, "I'm perfectly aware that I'm coming in under troubling circumstances. You didn't even elect me by your ballots. So I ask you to confirm me by your prayers."

With all the uncertainty surrounding this year's razor-close presidential race (indeed, as I write this Gore hasn't yet conceded) it's clear that this is the approach that Bush must follow.

We've heard the term "constitutional crisis" used time and again this past month. Certainly, there have been times in the history of the presidency (even in our own lifetime) that have been more critical, from the assassination of JFK, to Watergate and Nixon's resignation, to Clinton's impeachment.

Presidential history once again has been made this week, as the U.S. Supreme Court literally has taken on the task of choosing our next president.

It will long be remembered as a unique time in the history of American politics and of the presidency.

It's doubtful, however, that it will be pegged years from now as a time of constitutional crisis.

The U.S. Constitution, drafted over two centuries ago and amended numerous times since, is still serving us so incredibly well.

Lyndon Johnson, after the death of Kennedy, knew that the country was in shock. He knew that there were probably a lot of Americans who weren't sure if he was qualified for the presidency.

So what did he do? He worked tirelessly for the quick passage of the civil rights bill that Kennedy had been advocating. It was an act that helped memorialize JFK, helped heal the nation, and ultimately made him one of our most powerful presidents.

Bush should use the moment of his first major presidential speech to say:

* Our election system needs to be repaired.

* I am appointing a commission to study the numerous problems identified in this year's voting process.

* I want to have federal election standards.

* I want to have poor precincts vote the same as rich precincts, with modern, up-to-date equipment.

* I want to have more people voting.

* I want to have campaign finance reform.

It's time for him to be bold. He must recognize at this moment that we've just experienced some troubling circumstances but if a president demonstrates strength during such times, both he and the nation come out ahead. If Bush simply gives an abstract speech with little meaning, he will have lost that moment.

It was ironic that while attorneys and court officials were trying to determine if the intent of a voter could fairly be determined by looking at punch marks or hanging or dimpled chads on a ballot, the space shuttle was orbiting the earth. Astronauts were making space walks, fastening solar panels to the new space station currently under construction.

We've made great strides in the last century, both technologically and politically. As we begin a new century, surely we can find better ways to cast our votes.

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