A Nation Divided

December 6, 2000

On November 7 the voters went to the polls and demonstrated that we are a divided nation. The weeks following the election showed that we are also a polarized nation. The next president will need to work to bring the nation together. It will not be easy. Here's why.

First is the nature of the election itself. The 43rd President of the United States will be elected by a very slim margin. This was compounded by the controversy surrounding the recount of votes. Neither candidate could win without the other side claiming they were cheated. Albert Hunt asks, "What if we held a presidential election and nobody won?" That's how many Americans felt the few days after the election. Now that we have a president-elect it still feels like the incoming president was appointed rather than elected.

Second, the election showed how divided we are as a country. Women favored Gore, while men favored Bush. Large, urban states tended to favor Gore; smaller, more rural states voted for Bush. David Broder, writing in the Washington Post, said, "It was as if two different nations went to vote yesterday." When a new president is sworn in on January 20, he will have to deal with the divisions, heal our wounds, and move the nation in a positive direction by working with Congress. And that raises a third issue.

The ruling margin in the House and Senate is very slim. The Republican majority in the Senate is divided 50-50 while the majority in the House is less than ten votes. This means that a few Republican members of the House of Representatives can hold the chamber hostage. Just one or two Republicans in the Senate can do the same.

If elected, George W. Bush will have an opportunity only a few presidents have had in modern times: a House and a Senate of his own party. But the slim majorities in both chambers will make it difficult to enact sweeping changes in any area.

Success will have to be bipartisan, and a President Bush will have to work long and hard to govern a divided country by working with a divided Congress. In the last legislative session, Congress had some success in passing legislation that made small steps toward a patient's bill of rights and campaign finance reform. And Congress was stymied by a president who was willing to veto bills that would abolish the marriage penalty and ban partial birth abortion.

Perhaps Congress will try to enact election reform. This might include such things as: having all the polls close at the same time (to prevent media predictions from influencing the election) and holding elections on the weekend. Congress may even consider modifying the Electoral College by requiring states to provide proportional electoral votes (as in Maine and Nebraska) rather than the current "winner-takes-all" structure found in 48 states.

The challenges facing the next president, whoever he is, are significant but not insurmountable. We wish him well as he takes office as the 43rd President of the United States.