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Perhaps it would be too optimistic to believe politics as usual ended last night. But the concession speech of Vice President Al Gore and the response from Texas Gov. George W. Bush should put politics as usual on hold for a while. We hope it will be a long while.
With so many voters in our nation exasperated by the extended count in Florida and upset by the seemingly partisan rulings of the U.S. Supreme Court, something was needed to calm the waters. Gore and Bush proved up to the task.
Gore could have cast himself as a victim, placing emphasis on some version of "if only this, if only that." Instead he played the role of peacemaker, saying:
"... while I strongly disagree with the court's decision, I accept it. I accept the finality of this outcome... . And tonight, for the sake of our unity of the people and the strength of our democracy, I offer my concession. I also accept my responsibility, which I will discharge unconditionally, to honor the new president elect and do everything possible to help him bring Americans together..."
His character was revealed further when he added:
"... there is a higher duty than the one we owe to political party. This is America and we put country before party. We will stand together behind our new president."
Those who support Mr. Gore will honor him by taking his words to heart. There will be time enough to explore standardization of voting procedures, to reconsider the role of the Electoral College, or to implore the news media to be more patient on future election nights. If and when those tasks are undertaken, the effort should be without partisan rancor.
When it was Mr. Bush's turn to speak, he was more gracious, conciliatory, sincere and inspiring than at any time during the long campaign or post-election maneuvering.
To address his state and his nation, he strode to the dais of the Democratic-controlled Texas House of Representatives "because it has been a home to bipartisan cooperation. Here in a place where Democrats have the majority, Republicans and Democrats have worked together to do what is right for the people we represent."
There is nothing more important that Bush could have emphasized than his willingness to be a model for bipartisanship.
"The spirit of cooperation I have seen in this hall is what is needed in Washington, D.C.," he said. "It is the challenge of our moment. After a difficult election, we must put politics behind us and work together to make the promise of America available for every one of our citizens. I am optimistic that we can change the tone in Washington, D.C."
Every citizen should welcome the pledge of the new president while at the same time holding him to it and seeking in our individual lives to make it possible. It is time to reverse the slide toward incivility, to reject hate- and fear-mongering and to embrace reasonableness of tone and respect for one another.