No matter what the outcome of vote counting, at least 50% of the voters are going to feel that the ostensible "winner" has no real legitimacy. Yet their transparent hunger for power has led both George Bush and Al Gore to focus entirely on winning for themselves without regard to what will happen to the country.
Why not ask both men to share power--and through that acknowledge that the country is divided. A co-presidency would be unlikely to work, but something approaching a national unity government might.
We've never tried anything like this. Yet parliamentary systems have often forced together parties with fundamental differences that were at least as pronounced as those that separate Democrats and Republicans. Unity governments have worked when the prime minister (or in this case, the president) is willing to accept that in certain spheres the policies of another party will be implemented, and have failed when the prime minister has tried to use other means (e.g., control of the budget) to undermine the capacity of the junior party ministers to carry through their policies.
The current government in Germany, for example, is composed of two parties that have had sharp disagreements on issues concerning globalization. Yet they came together to form a government and have successfully shared power. A national unity government requires lots of good faith, but it does not require that the different parties abandon their differences.
Here is how it might work in our situation: Let each candidate declare now, before the outcome is finally determined, that if elected by the Electoral College, he will promise to give six major cabinet positions to the other party--including Attorney General, Housing, Labor, Education, Health, and Environmental Protection--and that he will fund those departments at a level no less than that of the current year's budget, adjusted annually for inflation.
Such a gesture would leave in the hands of the elected president State, Defense, and Treasury. But it would send a powerful signal to the country that a whole new spirit had entered into public life. For the first time since the Second World War, the general interest would trump personal ambitions.
The main reason why this "out of the box" thinking is seen as ridiculous by the pundits and hard-nosed politicians is that everyone simply accepts as inevitable the "me-firstism" and selfishness that dominate American society. The notion that a political leader could put "the common good" in front of personal interests seems foolish because it is "so unrealistic." What makes it unrealistic is that all of us have bought into the notion that it's just "common sense" to "look out for No. 1."
And that's why American society really needs spiritual leadership at this moment. Those of us who recognize a higher good than self-interest need to confront both parties with the ideals that made America great: the notion that the United States was established to promote the common good and the common well-being of all its citizens.
It's only by going to this higher ground that we will ever build common ground. So it's time to insist that "spirit matters" in the daily operations of our government. Now is the time for spiritual leaders to come out of the closet and demand a whole new ethos for our society--an ethos of caring for each other that can transcend American selfishness. If the politicians were to respond, instead of four years of governmental gridlock, we might see a rebirth of the spirit of America.