Just dropped my daughter off at school. And there I took a brief peek at the election underway. The front sidewalk has sprouted dozens of signs for local candidates. There were even a few workers out for the two statehouse candidates from our district.
The school is clearly braced for a huge turnout. They moved voting to the gym this year, and seem to have doubled the number of voting machines and volunteers. The PTA is having a bake sale (we contributed banana bread) and there are even volunteers helping people navigate the parking lots. But, thus far, turnout seems to be fairly LIGHT. At least, that’s what my pollworker friend told me just now…and it seemed to be the truth from my observation. Perhaps with the increased number of machines and manpower, it just seems smoother? Time will tell…
This election been the longest and most expensive presidential campaign in history. Today, the voters are speaking. Tonight, barring the reappearance of the “hanging chad” or equivalent spoiler, we should have a result.
Whether your favorite candidate wins or loses, it seems to me there are words we all should expect from the mouths of both candidates.
Below, I take my best shot at presidential speechwriting, and suggest some things we Americans most need to hear.
First, let me start with an assumption: George W. Bush failed to say what we most needed to hear in the year 2000, and that failure led to an increasingly polarized electorate and nation. You can’t put all of the difficulties of this administration on that one failure. But, to my mind, it set a horrible path with completely predictable results.
George W. Bush campaigned to be a “uniter, not a divider.” Many people, including me, truly believed that this was the way he would govern, because this was the way he had governed in Texas.
For myriad reasons, he did not. One good reason was the hotly contested, and seriously contentious, election itself. More than 50 percent of the nation did not vote for him. Many of those persons, to this day, refuse to believe that he won. (I am noting the fact, not editorializing)
Given that climate, we needed him to be the president he promised he would be. We needed a “uniter.” I personally believe his own advisors –specifically Rove and Cheney– steered him away from that path, and convinced him it was unnecessary to go that direction. He apparently agreed.
That mistake, IMHO, was the single biggest mistake of his presidency. Because it pitted 50.5 percent of the electorate against him from the start.
“But Eric,” you say, “surely you’re not suggesting that all Democrats would have fallen in line behind him!”
Not all, to be sure. But some would have, and probably enough to allow for an impressive “bipartisan” ruling coalition for most of his first term, specially if Bush had taken their advice and counsel as seriously as he always took the advice of those closest to him.
I believe the American people are always looking for a leader who will represent them ALL, no matter which direction they personally “lean.” But that “first step,” the first indication that it will happen, has to come from the president…not from the people, or even the political opposition. And, BTW, had Bush been able to do it? Had he listened consistently to voices from the other side –found his own “Bob Bullock”– on the national stage? His whole presidency might have been different. (Emphasis on “might.”)
It is a step of great political courage, to lead from the center, and to welcome in the opposition. It sets our government apart from so many others. We fight like hell during campaigns, and then we should (but don’t always) put aside those differences, learn from each other, and move forward as one nation.
It strikes me that BOTH the candidates this year are uniquely qualified to do this. McCain calls himself a “Maverick” (btw, did you know the actual Mavericks are not too keen on this?) which I take to mean that he would be willing to stand up to his own party, and reach across the aisle to the other one. Obama’s political writings, campaign, and political career, indicate that he also values making this move.
So, with the strong belief that it’s necessary, and that either of these two guys could theoretically do it, here is what I think should be said after the election.
The loser should say:
“I congratulate Senator (Blank) on a hard fought campaign. We did not always see eye-to-eye, nor do we now. But for the good of the nation, I call upon all of my supporters to acknowledge and support Senator (Blank) and their administration. The stakes for our nation’s future are too high to allow the petty rhetoric of a political campaign to infuse our national discourse. I pledge to support a President (Blank) administration, and I ask all of my supporters to do the same.”
The winner should say:
“I congratulate Senator (Blank) on a hard fought campaign. We did not always see eye-to-eye, nor do we now. To all of those who opposed my candidacy, I promise you have nothing to fear. I pledge to be YOUR president too. I pledge to work hard to win your trust and support, and I ask you to work with me. I take seriously the idea that we are ONE nation, and I pledge to do all in my power to not pursue policy in a way that will intentionally drive us apart. The stakes for our nation are too hight to allow the petty rhetoric of a political campaign to infuse our national discourse. I will endeavor to work with and for you, and I ask you do work with and for my administration, so that we might truly be ONE nation.”
Can either of them pull off a speech of such political courage?
I don’t know for sure. But I know that more than most candidates, they have the personalities for it.
And I know, beyond a shadow of doubt, that it’s what we most need to hear from them.