The defining metaphor of the unfinished presidential election may be the "donkelephant." That's a mythical cross between a Democrat donkey and a Republican elephant. It's like a mule (a cross bet-ween a donkey and horse). The best traits of each creature are combined, but only for one presidential lifetime.
This wobbly election may produce such a temporary hybrid.
Neither Al Gore nor George Bush will be able to claim a certain victory in the Florida vote, no matter which court, legislature, or recount finally provides the official victory. Either the dimpled-chad dispute or some partisan legislative act will likely leave too much ambiguity in the public's eye.
The next president will need to be born a new creature, the result of intersecting political forces played out over weeks of legal drama in the greatest crisis over a presidential election in a century.
With his stature diminished by the much-contested means of victory, he must create a new stature in office. To succeed, he will need to express the best traits of his opponent. The election will only continue after Jan. 20 as Mr. Gore or Mr. Bush feels compelled to win over that half of the electorate which may see him as illegitimate.
But how can he do that? Bill Clinton provides a precedent.
After winning in 1992 with only 43 percent of the vote (but with an electoral landslide), this Democratic president adopted many Republican virtues to make his term meaningful for all Americans and to raise his status. He ended the government deficit, reformed welfare, reappointed Alan Greenspan, and began to pay down the national debt. He even appointed a Republican as a secretary of Defense.
His donkelephant-like actions fored the GOP to come up with a presidential candidate in 2000 who, likewise, adopted Democratic traits.
Donkelephants do have their uses when Americans are split evenly in their partisan votes but also appear to want the elusive bipartisanship of the past. Whoever wins must be a master of straddling this political ambiguity.
With apologies to Charles Dickens, one could say, "It's the most partisan of times, it's the least partisan of times."
May the best candidate morph.
(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society