Today at noon, George W. Bush will take the Presidential Oath of Office, officially beginning his second term in the White House. Republicans will gather in Washington to celebrate their presidential victory and to prepare for another four years in charge. Democrats, for their part, will applaud grudgingly but graciously and begin planning anew for the electoral contests of 2006, 2008 and beyond.
The crucial question that we must all ask now, however, is not what happens today, but what will happen tomorrow. As it marks the beginning of the second term of a Bush administration, this inauguration compels us to examine anew the wisdom and judgment of both the previous four years and the four years that are to come.
On Election Day, Americans turned out to the polls in record numbers, and above all else, one thing was clear. With 51 percent of the vote going to George Bush and 48 percent going to John Kerry, the nation was split right down the middle. Neither the partisan rhetoric nor the one-sided ideology that currently dominates will be able to heal the divided nation we live in.
On Nov. 3, when John Kerry conceded the election, he recounted his congratulatory to President Bush. “We had a good conversation, and we talked about the danger of division in our country and the need — the desperate need — for unity, for finding the common ground, coming together,” Kerry said. On that same day, Bush asserted in a speech, “Today I want to speak to every person who voted for my opponent: A new term is a new opportunity to reach out to the whole nation. We have one country, one Constitution and one future that binds us. And when we come together and work together, there is no limit to the greatness of America.”
While disagreements remain, the partisan divide is not unbridgeable. But as we work toward this common ground, we cannot allow the goal of bipartisan cooperation to become empty rhetoric, a series of buzzwords that lose their meaning in the midst of the 24-hour news cycle. It will not be enough for President Bush to ask Democratic officials and voters for support with the left side of his mouth while catering to conservative radicals with the right side. If Republicans seek compromise, the Democratic Party will respond, eager to work for all Americans — not just the top two percent.
In that same Nov. 3 speech, George Bush told every Kerry supporter, “To make this nation stronger and better I will need your support, and I will work to earn it.” The Yale College Democrats are optimistic about the future of our country. And as long as both our leaders in Washington and we on this campus adhere to these words, we are confident that Americans of both parties will be able to move past political divides to achieve actual reform.
Partisanship and ideology have their time and their place in American politics, but we cannot afford the same political deadlock of the past. Our promise is too great to let differences of opinion split the nation into patches of blue and red. The speeches and phone calls of Nov. 3 were a stirring demonstration of one belief that even George Bush and John Kerry share: America’s success lies in the ability of her citizens to work together for the common good. As we rejoice, or despair, at the man taking the Presidential Oath this afternoon, we must also make the same promise that he does: to preserve, protect and defend this precious union, both from enemies abroad and division within.
Alissa Stollwerk is a junior in Saybrook College. She is president of the Yale College Democrats.