Our founding fathers envisioned a government "of the people, by the people and for the people." The Declaration of Independence stated it nicely: Our government derives its "just powers from the consent of the governed." This sublime thought was meant to ensure that our political institutions adequately reflected the will of our society.

Mission accomplished: Both the House and the Senate are as evenly divided as the public. In other countries, this sort of governmental deadlock often gives birth to demagogues and popular uprisings. In America, where human rights are deeply ingrained in the law and held by the populace to be self-evident, words supplant weapons.

But battle lines have already been drawn, with the rival political factions behaving like irritated children holding their breath, exhaling only long enough to spit accusations. Voter fraud, manipulation, and electoral theft are the tunes currently being carried by both parties. Each side has dug in its heels--deadlocked, intractable, and seemingly content to bloody the other with smear campaigns designed to make it look like the other stole--or tried to steal--the election.

Soon enough, things may change: The popular buzz around D.C. is that Strom Thurmond, the 98-year old senator from South Carolina (he'll be 100 years old when his current term ends) is pondering early retirement. At the same time, there have been whispers about Senator Jesse Helm's (R-North Carolina) deteriorating health. Should both these men vacate their offices, the respective governors of North and South Carolina would have the authority to anoint interim senators. Since both those governors are Democrats, the process would favor Democratic appointees, thus tipping the balance in Congress toward the Democrats.

Currently though, the congressional waters remain frozen. It appears that the only certainty is that the stench of illegitimacy will taint the next government. That is to say, the atmosphere will resemble that which enveloped President Gerald Ford following Nixon's historic resignation.

At the time, President Ford was saddled with the task of healing a nation torn by an eroding faith in its leaders. Upon taking office, Ford's popularity swelled, as the public hoped for change. Roughly one month later, Ford pardoned Nixon, and his popularity spiraled downward. Popular wisdom holds that President Ford could not afford such an ambitious or radical move because he simply was not perceived by the public as a legitimate president.

A similar shroud of illegitimacy will hang over the next government. If President-elect Bush is stymied by an intractable Congress, it is unlikely he will implement the sort of bold policy moves we associate with genuine leadership. Of course, there are many vital issues in our society that could still be meaningfully engaged by a middle-of-the-road conservative leader.

Ethnic prejudices continue to rage as fiercely as ever in this country. Perhaps civil rights and civil liberties could prove the concept that binds the two political parties together (as our disparate founding fathers were bound by the concept of human rights).

Along these lines, it should be noted that President Lincoln came into office under the shroud of illegitimacy. After all, Lincoln won only 40% of the popular vote his first term, and not a single Southern electoral vote. And none of the Southern electors even cast their ballots for Lincoln's second term. This point was not lost on the president, who facilitated the healing process by adopting a member of the other party as his vice president in 1864, dedicating much of his effort toward preservation of the Union, and later to Reconstruction, not political infighting.

Since neither the Republicans nor the Democrats seem prepared to leave this country as it is, one hopes that a deadlocked Congress will rally to the great cause of civil liberties and rights and thus bind partisans to a common goal--and propel this country forward.

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