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Exemplify unity for leaders

| Thursday, November 4, 2004

Speculation about weeks of ballot recounts, legal challenges and Electoral College disasters evaporated Wednesday with John Kerry’s concession speech. Americans had officially picked a president. Barely.

While half the nation basks in President Bush’s victory and rejoices in a second term, the other half bounces from seething anger to dejected disillusionment. This immediate emotional overload is to be expected after a bitter, divisive campaign and an election whose exit polls illustrated just how divided the country is – economically, racially and especially morally.

But emotions – even this intense – should not come first as citizens and politicians alike consider their next move. Instead, they must realize that a choice has been made and take a rational approach to their future calculations. Impulsive declarations of seizing dominance, by the right, and fleeing the country, by the left, are as unproductive as they are unrealistic. The results are in. Americans have to move forward, not look back.

Though all but the most die-hard pundits are suffering from political exhaustion, it is critical that citizens do not turn away their attention just because the daily storm of campaigning has calmed. In the past few days, both Bush and Kerry have preached unity and encouraged their parties to reach across the aisle for the good of the country. While history shows that partisanship will soon overtake this honeymoon of good intentions, this period does provide a chance for the public to pay careful attention to elected officials’ promises. By doing so, citizens can arm themselves to hold their leaders accountable if and when those promises are pushed aside.

Election 2004 proved red states and blue states are redder and bluer than ever. But despite this stark division, the country cannot afford to separate into the gloating winners and the sore losers. America still faces the war in Iraq, an economic recession and an ongoing struggle against terrorism – it does not have time to waste on internal squabbling. Unity, though perhaps an elusive achievement, is still an essential goal.

Americans have every right to be delighted, and every right to be devastated. But if we choose to put our partisan grudges before the good of the nation, there is nothing to stop politicians from doing the same.