Capital Commentary is the weekly current-affairs publication of CPJ, written to encourage the pursuit of public justice.

Mending the Breach

Stephen Lazarus


December 18, 2000

With the Supreme Court's historic decision and the Vice President's concession speech last week, "In-Decision 2000" has finally ended in favor of Gov. George W. Bush. The next important date on the horizon is January 20: Inauguration Day. Like it or not, the next President will face a deeply divided country, a divided Congress, and a divided Court.

Even though seven Justices agreed there were serious problems with the Florida recounts, many citizens believe the election ended the wrong way. As David Broder of the Washington Post put it, a "judicial checkmate" for Bush falls short of a mandate. Furthermore, Democrats such as Jesse Jackson and others are forecasting a permanent cloud over a Bush presidency, arguing that he "failed to secure the consent of the governed." The debatable merits of such claims aside, is there anything Bush can do to mend the breach and help unite the country behind a shared vision of justice for all?

There are many steps he could take to launch out on a new and vigorous course. First, in the wake of the contested election, Bush and Congress should act quickly to respond to all the "chadder" we heard about dysfunctional voting machines and outdated punch cards. They can spare the country "recount paralysis" in the future by investing in states and counties to improve their means of casting and counting votes—especially in low-income precincts.

The new administration should take the lead to urge states and local boards to review their electoral methods and equipment to ensure that future elections "count every legal vote." Legislation has already been introduced in Congress to begin this process to prevent future elections from ending up in the courts.

Second, President-elect Bush and his team should work creatively with a divided Congress to pass legislation in a host of areas where the basis for bipartisan agreement already exists. New coalitions are forming, ready to roll up their sleeves to strengthen Medicare, save Social Security, and promote education reform. Even antagonists in the abortion debate have now begun to find some common ground in their support for abstinence education and programs that strengthen fatherhood and marriage.

Of course, although everyone loves bipartisanship in theory, given the divisions we've seen, this coming together won't be easy. Still, a divided Congress need not prove the doomsayers right. Both Bush and the Congress realize that the bridge to effective government in 2001 and beyond must stretch across party lines. We will need bold leadership that acts outside narrow partisan boxes to get the job done.

But Bush's biggest challenge—and opportunity—will be to show that his "compassionate conservatism" can help heal the racial divide and other social ills in the country. Despite the unprecedented outreach of Bush's campaign to minorities, over 90% of African-Americans voted for Gore. Bush will need to gain their trust. His outspoken support for the work of faith-based organizations in America's inner cities, and his pledge to expand Charitable Choice to assist them will no doubt help. By genuinely committing his administration to policies that "leave no child behind" and that promote the welfare of the poor, whatever their color, he may be able to convince even skeptics that he is a "uniter and not a divider."

If Bush accomplishes that, he'll be judged not on how he got into office—in an election too close for comfort—but on what he did once he got there.

—Stephen Lazarus, Social Policy Research Associate
   Center for Public Justice


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Capital Commentary is a weekly current-affairs publication of the Center for Public Justice. Published since 1996, it is written to encourage the pursuit of justice. Commentaries do not necessarily represent an official position of the Center for Public Justice but are intended to help advance discussion. Articles, with attribution, may be republished according to our publishing guidelines.”