I woke up this morning in the clear L.A. sunshine to what you would think might be a grave political crisis: For one of the few times in American history, Americans don't know the day after the vote who the next president will be. George Bush is the presumptive president-elect, leading in the current Florida vote count, but a recount could change all that. Vice President Gore is ahead in the electoral college vote, and appears to have squeaked out a victory in the popular vote.
And yet, no panic, no disorder. What a great country! That sense of peace could change, of course, depending on the actions and reactions of the two men who would be president. We're lucky in a way that it's Florida that holds the balance. We could just as easily be waiting on, say, Arkansas, a state whose own Gov. Mike Huckabee publicly claimed the state might become a "banana republic" around election time. "I thought about calling Jimmy Carter in to see if he could monitor our elections," he quipped before the vote on the Don Imus show. "He goes to Central America to do that."
But despite the high stakes, it is a testimony to America's traditions, and the Bush family's public reputation for integrity in particular, that the press and public appear confident that the election recount in Jeb Bush's Florida will be done in an honest, legitimate matter. There are advantages to having Barbara Bush as "controlling legal authority."
By midmorning L.A. time, Gov. Bush appeared with Dick Cheney to stake his conditional claim to victory: "The strength of American democracy was displayed in this election," Bush said. If the recount in Florida confirms the original Bush victory there, "Secretary Cheney and I will do everything in our power to unite the country" after "one of the most exciting elections." Cheney said briefly he was "optimistic" that the recount will produce "a clear and decisive result." The message could not be clearer to Gore.
Maggie Gallagher is a nationally syndicated columnist, a leading voice in the new marriage movement and co-author of The Case for Marriage: Why Married People Are Happier, Healthier, and Better Off Financially.