A year ago at this time, the 2000 presidential election campaigns were shifting into high gear with various candidates trying to put themselves in a strong position to capture their party's nomination at the Los Angeles and Philadelphia national conventions.
Al Gore was battling Bill Bradley, and George W. Bush was trying to fight off the challenge of Sen. John McCain. Both Bush and Gore were bloodied in the numerous primary elections but emerged as the GOP and Democratic standard-bearers.
In the Dec. 25, 1999, Saturday Column, this reporter said, "Perhaps the best Christmas present American citizens could give to this country as it enters a new century would be a far greater interest in the elections, far more knowledge about the candidates and a great turnout at the polls on Election Day."
The column continued, "Think what could be accomplished and what it would mean for this country a year from now if American voters turned out in record numbers and demonstrated by those they elect that they want to start off the new century with high civic and moral expectations for those who serve in high political offices."
For whatever reason, far too many Americans stayed home and did not vote. This was the case in local, state and national elections, and the situation in Florida offered the best possible evidence of the importance of voting. Time and time again, candidates and those interested in our nation's political process try to hammer home the message that every vote counts. Nevertheless, the stay-at-homes are a national disgrace, and it is difficult to know what it takes to get these people to take enough interest in local, state and national issues to take advantage of their opportunity to cast a ballot.
So many people are so quick to say, "my vote doesn't count" or "no one is going to pay attention to my vote" or "what difference does my little vote mean?" Every vote does count!
Although many may be disappointed in the presidential election results, one aspect of the election should be clear to all. Whether George Bush or Al Gore were to win the election, this country was assured of a president with far higher moral standards.
For eight years, Republicans tried to convince voters that character counts. The message apparently fell on deaf ears because voters put Bill Clinton in the White House for two consecutive terms. Seldom has this nation had a president who disgraced the office in so many ways and who served as such a poor example of character and honesty. He had many strengths, but his personal behavior clouded and tarnished many of his accomplishments.
George Bush will usher in a new chapter of honor, integrity and honesty in the White House. He is sure to conduct his personal life in a manner that will reflect credit on the office and this country.
The country is a big winner in this respect.
It is unfortunate more voters did not go to the polls and express their choice of Bush or Gore. The closeness of the election results in Florida does not leave a good taste in anyone's mouth. Both Gore and Bush would have preferred a solid margin of victory. And the fact that Gore won the national popular vote is sure to bother people when they see Bush take the oath of office.
Even so, Bush won the vote in far more states than Gore and he has broad support across the country.
The public failed to deliver on a record voter turnout, but voters did place a genuinely good person in the White House. For this, both Republicans and Democrats should be thankful.
Now, it is up to Bush to demonstrate his leadership abilities, appoint top-flight individuals to positions of high responsibility and set challenging goals for this country and its people.
Some are suggesting that with Congress so evenly divided, Bush must be careful not to push too hard on proposals that might alienate Democrats. However, his supporters are going to be extremely disappointed if he abandons his position on many issues that were emphasized during the campaign.
No question about it, Bush faces a tough challenge but, at the same time, enormous opportunities. It is important how he starts out, whether he is quick to gain the respect of those in Washington and throughout the country and if he follows through on plans to engage individuals of varying political beliefs, diverse backgrounds and across the economic landscape. It will be unfortunate if, as some suggest, there are people in the Democratic Party determined to make life as difficult as possible for Bush in his legislative efforts.
This would not be good for the country.
Hopefully, a year from now, Americans will be able to look back over the past 12 months and give good grades to Bush's first year in office. The country already has too much divisiveness and finger-pointing and too many highly visible people intent on sowing seeds of anger and desperation.
All citizens, Republicans and Democrats will be happier a year from now if Bush is able to lead in a manner that is fair and compassionate to all and if he has helped make the United States a stronger, healthier nation with more opportunities for more Americans.
It could be a great time in this nation's history.