No matter who walks into the the White House on Jan. 20, he must not leave the losing side in the dust.
The nation has endured a bare-knuckles election campaign, a razor-thin popular vote, and now courtroom wrangles over ballot counts and perhaps the Electoral College vote. The ultimate winner will need to extend a mighty humble hand to the defeated party.
Reconciliation can be difficult in a winner-take-all presidential democracy. In a parliamentary system, a divided vote would lead to a sharing of legislative and executive power. But the Oval Office has only one desk. And the buck stops there.
Still, the next president will need to mend the large crack down the middle of the nation. Take it from one who knows, Gerald Ford. At a Thursday-night dinner commemorating the 200th anniversary of the White House, he reflected on the current standoff:
"Once again, the world's oldest republic has demonstrated the youthful vitality of its institutions and the ability and the necessity, I say, to come together after a hard-fought campaign. The clash of partisan political ideas remains just that; to be quickly followed by a peaceful transfer of authority. We will and we must in 2001.
"Anyone who experienced the tumultuous events of August 1974 will appreciate my own prayer - that no future American president is ever called to this office as I was, and that our Constitution is never again put to such a test....
"Yet, as the days went by and we reached out to my old friends on Capitol Hill ... and others who for too long had been excluded in the White House, I was amazed by America's capacity for self-healing."
The US now needs a bipartisan president who can shed much of his ideology, drop divisive planks of his party's platform, and appoint a Cabinet that reflects the nation.
Tattered by this election, the winner must govern from compromise more than strength. And that might even be refreshing.
(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society