As he recovers from the strain and stress of the longest election
in American history, George W. Bush might do well to ponder this
possibility: The hardest part of his journey has yet to begin.
He will become president, true. He will be the first Republican
chief executive since Dwight Eisenhower to deal with a Congress
controlled by his own party.
But some supporters of the defeated Al Gore may believe the new
President Bush to be president with an asterisk, someone who won the
office on a technicality. And he will take office with the nation's
politics as polarized as an electric current - and in the knowledge
that Florida's disputed ballots will be counted, recounted, and
disputed by journalists and scholars for decades to come.
This does not necessarily mean his will be a weak administration.
Presidents have vast powers at their disposal - not least the power
of bully-pulpit persuasion. But the job will test every ounce of
Mr. Bush's self-proclaimed uniting skills. When it comes to
partisanship, Washington is to Austin as the Atlantic Ocean is to
"The only way for the next president to be effective is to
demonstrate that his loyalty to his party comes after his loyalty
to the entire country," says University of Oklahoma President David
Boren, a former Democratic senator. "For too long the two parties
have been fighting each other in a very petty way."
The end of the process does not appear to have made Bush's
impending task any easier. The narrow US Supreme Court decision
ending any prospect of official Florida hand recounts did finally -
finally! - give Bush a victory that he had held in his hands, only
to have it snatched away, several times before.
But the ruling was far from definitive. Several of its dissents
were extraordinarily bitter in tone. To see the highest court in
the land as split as a Florida canvassing board - and evidently
struggling to find a solution to an almost insoluble problem -
could well embolden Democratic critics for years to come.
After Watergate ended with President Nixon's resignation, many
Americans had a feeling that the political system had, to a certain
extent, worked. After the Long Election, many may feel that the
system simply survived. Even on the part of many of Bush's
supporters there is a feeling less of triumph than relief.
"By ruling in a way that will long be seen as partisan," the
Supreme Court did not help Bush's chances of being seen as a
legitimate winner, says William Leuchtenburg, a historian at the
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
Voters are likely to rally around the president-elect in the days
to come. That is a common post-election phenomenon in America. His
poll numbers will rise, the choosing of his Cabinet will seem a
comfortable and familiar ritual. …