Off to the inauguration this week. Hanging over the proper parties, pompous proclamations, and political propositions will be the enormity of what the hordes are gathering in Washington to witness: A peaceful transition of power from one party to another.
Peaceful so far, that is. President Bill Clinton's public claims last week that his successor essentially stole the election have not (yet) been able to lure George W. Bush into a public battle.
Mr. Clinton would love nothing else more. George W. Bush needs nothing else less.
But that fight will melt away on Saturday, when the Capitol Mall briefly becomes the heart of the republic. Against a background of red, white, and blue buntings and an ivory Capitol dome built during the nation's greatest time of conflict, another president will pledge to uphold the Constitution - and in so doing will hold the union together.
That, even after a disputed election that has shaken this nation's election system to the core.
In leading the country, President-elect Bush and the 535 members of the divided Congress may be best served by observing the words of the man who ordered the dome completed amid a Civil War that was tearing the country apart.
“Fellow citizens, we cannot escape history. We of this Congress and this administration will be remembered in spite of ourselves. No personal significance or insignificance can spare one or another of us,'' President Lincoln wrote in 1862 in his annual message to Congress. “We shall nobly save, or meanly lose, the last best hope of Earth. Other means may succeed; this could not fail. The way is plain, peaceful, generous, just - a way which, if followed, the world will forever applaud, and God must forever bless.”
Nothing about partisan advantage or rancor in those words.
NUMBING NUMBERS: The new figures from the U.S. Census show that, had the just-released Electoral College numbers been in effect for the election just completed, Mr. Bush would have won much more easily over Mr. Gore, 278 votes to 260.
The Texan won all four states that will pick up two additional electoral college votes - Texas, Georgia, Florida, and Arizona - while Mr. Gore won the two states that will lose two electoral college votes - Pennsylvania and New York. Of the four states that will each add one vote, Mr. Bush won three (Colorado, North Carolina, and Nevada), while Mr. Gore won one (California).
The two candidates each won four states (including Michigan and Ohio) that will lose one electoral vote.
What it all means is that if the next election is as devoid of issues as the one just past, Democrats will have a more difficult time winning the White House in the next two elections, as people (and electoral votes) leave the northern and eastern regions that have been a stronghold for their party. Mr. Gore won every state last year that Democrats can reasonably expect to win, but still did not capture the presidency.
It means the next Democratic candidate will have to somehow attract support from a big state that traditionally goes Republican. Florida would just barely fill that bill, but it may not be in play four years from now.
One demographer in Tallahassee said during the election fiasco there that Florida tends to skew Republican during economic downturns like the one we may now be facing because conservative Midwesterners tend to pull up stakes and move south (Many people can withstand the cold winters here, and a recession, but few want to endure both at once if they don't have to). In the wake of the recession of the 1980s, the state went from solidly Democratic to solidly Republican, and remains that way today.
It is a testament to the good job Mr. Gore did in Florida to have come so close.
The new electoral map also complicates things for the Democrat with the highest profile name in presidential politics: Hillary Clinton. Her new home state lost two electoral votes, and now has fewer votes than Texas, home to the Republican president-in-waiting.
To win the White House, Ms. Clinton would have to hold all those states won by Mr. Gore, and would have to somehow add a victory in Florida or Ohio - a long-shot scenario at best. While Mr. Gore won Illinois and Michigan with a conservative “New Democrat-style” message, Ms. Clinton would have to undergo a major remake to promote herself as such. Even at that, holding those two states would eat up a lot of Democratic Party resources.
And, while Mr. Gore fought a core of anti-President Clinton sentiment in the midwestern states last year, Ms. Clinton would begin her race with even higher negatives - a built-in opposition of about 40 percent. And that before she goes on the record with Senate votes and the airing of post-Clinton administration scandals that are bound to pour forth once Republicans get their hands on Justice Department files.
Fritz Wenzel covers politics for The Blade. Email him at email@example.com.
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