To whom it may concern: You have just been elected president of the United States. You've prevailed in the most expensive, most vigorously contested, most closely watched election in U.S. history. You may not have won the hearts and minds of the American electorate, but you've won a majority of the Electoral College, and for that the White House is yours. The hard work -- the stump speeches, the red-eye cross-country flights, the rubber-chicken dinners and all those babies to kiss -- is over, right? Hardly. Compared to what you will soon face, the campaign was easy. Now, you actually have to lead. And you have to lead a country, a people, that is more divided during a period of peace and prosperity than at any other time in the history of the Republic. These cleavages, unlike those in the past, are not clear cut. They're not as easy as race or gender or class. They are within regions, within states, within communities and within households. And they have produced some of the most sensational election results in decades. Of course, at the national level, the 192,000-vote difference between the two major candidates is the smallest since Kennedy topped Nixon in 1960. But the razor-thin margins in a diverse array of states -- 7,282 votes in New Hampshire, 6,124 in Wisconsin and 5,253 in Iowa, not to mention whatever the final tally is in Florida -- will have been the deciding factor in this election. In Missouri, Democrat Ben Holden won the Governor's Mansion by a scant 21,258 votes out of nearly 2.3 million cast. In Washington, Maria Cantwell is poised to unseat incumbent Republican Sen. Slade Gorton by 3,711 votes out of more than 1.7 million. And in my home congressional district, the New Jersey 12th, incumbent Rush Holt currently leads former three-term congressman Dick Zimmer by a vote count of 142,900 to 142,844. That's right, 56 votes out of more than 285,000 cast. Fifty-six. The numbers, however, do not do justice to how incredible this election season has been. The campaigns began with talk of actors and casino moguls pursuing third-party bids. An anti-corporate crusader took 3 percent of the vote in a time when big business is building unprecedented wealth for a growing number of Americans. The vice president couldn't win a plurality of votes in his own home state. And a dead man and the wife of the sitting president were both both judged worthy of seats in the greatest deliberative body in the world. Despite its satisfaction with the country's direction, the electorate is divided over where to go from here -- over how to manage this prosperity, over how to ensure the solvency of our entitlement programs, over what can be done to bring a sense of morality and decency back to public life. Pundits and politicians will insist that you have emerged from this fractious election without a mandate, without the authority or legitimacy to lead. To the contrary, you do have a mandate -- to overcome these divisions in American society. You have a mandate to transcend the divisiveness and partisanship that only the ill-informed claim emanates from Washington alone. You have a mandate to see that our financial bounty is used responsibly at home and that our power is used abroad in an equally responsible manner. You have a mandate to calm the frenzy of emotions that this election has fomented, leading one short-sighted reporter to ask Secretary Daley if we are poised on the "edge of a constitutional crisis." You have a mandate to encourage respect for the rule of law, for the democratic system that put you in office, for each other and for something greater than ourselves. The people have spoken, and it is not entirely clear what they have been saying. They want more government and they want less. They want tax relief and they want the debt retired. They want their freedom protected and they want the government to protect them from others' exercise of license. As President Clinton learned in 1993 and the House Republican leadership discovered two years later, an electoral victory does not give you carte blanche to remake social and financial institutions to mirror your ideals. You have a fine line to walk indeed. "Great innovations should not be forced on slender majorities," Jefferson observed in the waning days of his presidency, and these words bear consideration now. The call on Election Day was not for an easy politics of ideology, Mr. President-elect, but for a difficult one of conciliation. Partisanship may be easy; leadership isn't.Comments powered by Disqus
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