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After days of the bad comes time of the good

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© St. Petersburg Times, published December 14, 2000

Al Gore's concession speech was the best possible under the circumstances. He said the right things very well. He did not indulge himself in one last round of "I just wanted every vote to be counted."

He referred to George W. Bush as the "president-elect" without wincing. "I personally will be at his disposal," Gore promised. He asked his supporters to do the same: "Our disappointment must be overcome by our love of country."

For a man so wooden, Gore even broke into a little poetry at the end, referring to his own father's description of defeat as a chance "to shake the soul and let the glory out."

So, describe Gore as "gracious" if you like. I hope it does not seem mean to point out that "gracious" would have been more apt a month ago, and several lawsuits ago, before he flooded Tallahassee with lawyers and his campaign chairman vowed to fight this "injustice unparalleled in our history."

In his turn, George W. Bush also said healing things (and yes, called Gore "gracious"). Surely it is worth something that two men deadlocked for the presidency could wait for a month, relying on the nation's courts of law to settle their case, and then speak so well of each other? How, exactly, does this make the U.S. democracy a "laughingstock," as many cynics claimed?

Now our 36-day adventure is over. The question is how we recover. We saw some of the worst of our politics over the past month. Let's consider the possibility that it might get better.

Sadly, it was not enough during the last month to say one side was merely right. The other side also had to be dishonest, corrupt, mean.

No Republican could admit: "Al Gore is right to pursue his legal options under the law." No Democrat could say: "George Bush has a reasonable argument, but we respectfully disagree."

No. It was "Sore/Loserman."

It was heaping ridicule upon Secretary of State Katherine Harris' mascara and denying she possibly could have been acting within the law.

It was a conspiracy between George and Jeb and the wicked Legislature and who knows who else.

Character attack is bad enough in campaign politics and legislative politics. But here, the two parties decided they needed to poison the courts too.

Three circuit judges in Tallahassee, Terry Lewis and Nikki Clark and N. Sanders Sauls, ruled in favor of Bush over Gore. Did we hear our Republican friends say that they were corrupt stooges? That they were biased? That they were unfit? No -- because they ruled the "correct" way.

But the justices of the Florida Supreme Court, heaven help them! They made a tough call in the case where they extended the counting deadline. In the second case, they ruled 4-3 for Gore. For this they were wicked, evil, partisan, writers of new law, twisters of justice. (They voted for Bush in upholding the Seminole and Martin absentee cases, and against Gore right after Harris shut down the counting, but they probably were just having an off day.)

Now deference should be given by Democrats to the U.S. Supreme Court, which was attacked by some on Wednesday as Republican partisans. Seven justices agreed that a last-minute recount in Florida would be a violation of the equal protection guarantee of the U.S. Constitution. Two of these justices thought there was still time to fix it, but the majority did not.

So it is over. And legitimate.

We are going to hear a lot of talk now about how wounded and divided we are. George W. Bush will never be able to govern. Jeb Bush is damaged forever. Congress and our Legislature will be bitterly divided as never before. Florida's reputation is laid waste. And so forth.

Please, let us take a deep breath. Permanent scars on our psyche were predicted from Clinton's health care plan. From the Medicare cuts of 1995. From Monica Lewinsky. From impeachment. But the anger of the day fades with time, and perspective emerges.

Most Americans do not buy wholly into either party's extreme. We have handed them a tie. Why is that some sort of disaster? Neither side can do unilateral damage, and success will come best to those who reach across the divide -- who "change the tone," as Bush said last night. Sounds good to me. Let's knock off for Christmas.

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