COMMENTARY: Election 2000: The Campaign That Never Ends

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c. 2000 Religion News Service

(Samuel K. Atchison is an ordained minister and has worked as a policy analyst and social worker to the homeless. He currently is a prison chaplain in Trenton, N.J., and a fellow of the George H. Gallup International Institute in Princeton, N.J.)

(UNDATED) “This is the song that doesn’t end; it goes on and on, my friend.”

Thus does the never-ending nature of Election 2000 resemble the theme song of a once-popular children’s show, “Lamb Chop’s Play-Along.” As the increasingly complicated election count goes into its second week, the nation is even further away from knowing the identity of its next president than it was on Election Day.

Nor does the campaign’s resemblance to childish things end there. As the late Shari Lewis, host of “Lamb Chop’s Play-Along,” used to admonish the show’s characters about the need for mutual cooperation and fair play, so have the nation’s pundits attempted to counsel the presidential candidates.

Several have even gone so far as to invoke the example of Richard Nixon’s concession in the controversial 1960 election as a model to be followed.

This, it seems to me, should give us all pause for reflection. For at the risk of sounding unduly harsh, when Richard Nixon is held up as a moral example, it suggests just how far out of focus the election process has spun.

Witness, for example, the presence of former Secretaries of State Warren Christopher and James Baker, the official representatives for Vice President Al Gore and Texas Gov. George W. Bush during the Florida recount, spewing their candidates’ party lines under the guise of statesmanship.

As with most things in politics, their presence was about appearances. That is, in each case the Honorable Pol sought to define his candidate’s position vis-a-vis the recount in terms that were patriotic and favorable to the electorate, and all with the appropriate air of gravitas.

And what of the electorate? What do the American people believe is in their best interests?

According to a CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll, conducted Nov. 11-12, “Americans overall favor having Florida officials recount the votes in certain counties by hand as requested by the Gore campaign, oppose a second election in Palm Beach County despite the controversy over possible ballot irregularities there, and say Gore should concede the election in Florida if he is still behind in the vote after the recount has been conducted and the overseas ballots counted.”

Moreover, according to the Gallup Organization, “When all is said and done, large majorities of the public overall … say they will accept either Bush or Gore as the legitimate president once the winner is officially declared and inaugurated next January.”

In other words, what Americans want is a result that is as fair and thorough as possible, and they want it to be accomplished expeditiously. Furthermore, the fact that they will accept _ and presumably support _ either Bush or Gore as the legitimate president suggests that for all the rhetoric and posturing of their respective campaigns, most Americans don’t see either man as the key to salvation or apocalypse.

Perhaps this is because they understand that the future of the nation is dependent upon a higher, more transcendent authority than can be obtained through the political process. As King David wrote in Psalm 24:1, “The Earth is the Lord’s, and the fullness thereof; the world, and they that dwell therein.”

Whereas the next president _ whoever he is _ will need to rally the support of his partisans, negotiate with a nearly equally divided Congress and gain the respect of a skeptical populace, God is not so hamstrung. He is not concerned about public opinion polls, nor is he subject to a recall vote. To the contrary, he will sovereignly work his will through, because of, or in spite of, the actions of men.

It is for this reason that I was heartened by the front page photo in a recent edition of my hometown paper. It showed a group of Christians in West Palm Beach, Fla. _ black and white, Democrat and Republican _ praying together for a just outcome to the election in Florida. They’ve got the right idea.

Maybe the candidates, both of whom claim to be Christians, should do the same.


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