A gracious concession speech by Al Gore capped an end to the nation's 36-day legal cliffhanger. With just as many days to go before a Bush presidency, Mr. Gore deserves credit for setting a high tone for how Republicans and Democrats should work together in Washington.
"Now is the time to recognize that that which unites us is greater than that which divides us," Gore said. "This is America, and we put country before party."
In something like a brotherly conversation across the US airwaves Wednesday night, George W. Bush sounded a similar unifying theme: "I know America wants reconciliation and unity.... I know Americans want progress. And we must seize this moment and deliver."
Essential to Gore's message was his acceptance of the legal outcome of the vote count in Florida, despite his dashed hopes of finding more votes in a manual recount and his winning of the national vote. (He's only the fourth presidential candidate in US history to win the popular vote and lose the Electoral College count.)
Gore's astute ability to switch from partisan fighter to democratic idealist was most notable in this call: "I particularly urge all who stood with us to unite behind our next president."
And by agreeing to meet President-elect Bush on Tuesday in Washington, he will visibly set an example for a spirit of bipartisanship that Bush hopes to bring to the nation's oft-cynical capital.
Speaking in a bipartisan way is often easier than acting it. Democracy thrives in the contest over differences, but it can only survive when those differences are moderated and melded, either through humility of compromise or desire for the greater good.
Political street-fighter that he is, Gore has considerable skill and experience that Bush should not overlook in his presidential honeymoon. The two men owe it to each half of the electorate that voted for them to find some balance on issues - especially if Gore plans to run again in four years.
Washington's decisionmaking ways don't have to be "another Florida."
And the thin margins of Republican control in both houses of Congress only point to a need to reject the bitter political styles of the past couple decades.
Now that Gore has helped Bush with a generous concession speech, the new president should carry forward that extraordinary display of genuine bipartisanship by working with Democrats to enact laws in his early days.
Building on bipartisan skills developed in Texas, Bush can break down the hardened attitudes on Capitol Hill and seek broad centrist support on such issues as campaign financing and Social Security. And he can reach out to blacks who felt their votes were undercounted in Florida and push for election law reform in the states.
Earning the confidence of those who didn't vote for him will be Bush's supreme test in his honeymoon period. Gore's helping hand in his speech was a gift and a guide.
And the tense days over the Florida vote showed just how much partisanship can tear at the institutions of government.
That kind of politics, after all, must stop when governing must begin.
(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society