Like many political junkies, I remember November and December of 2000 like they were yesterday. As my wife and I waited for our first child to be born, we were glued to CNN for hourly developments. We watched election officials in Broward County stare at "dimpled chads," and we listened raptly to David Boies and Ted Olson as they argued their cases in the courts.
After the Florida Supreme Court allowed a statewide recount to proceed, the Bush v. Gore decision came swiftly and halted the process. As a Gore supporter, I was angry and disappointed. I did not agree with the Supreme Court's decision and felt that the wrong man had won the election.
Then I watched Gore's concession speech. When history looks back at the vice president's career, those seven minutes will stand as the honorable highlight. The Supreme Court had spoken, the Electoral College was on the verge of certifying the results, and Gore understood the need to move from hyper-partisanship to governing. His statesmanship towards President-elect Bush and the nation reflected the best of American democracy.
As House Speaker John Boehner and the Republican caucus plot their next move, they should quit looking at the 1995 government shutdown as the best analogy. In 2000, a national election occurred, the Supreme Court ratified the results, and the nation moved on, thanks in large measure to the patriotism of Vice President Gore. Over the last two years, Congress has passed the Affordable Care Act, the president signed it, the Supreme Court affirmed its constitutionality, and the candidate who promised to repeal it lost a national election. And yet rather than accepting the results, the Tea Party Republicans and a feckless Speaker Boehner act as if none of this occurred.
Perhaps the insular, alternate-universe of Fox News, right-wing carnival barkers on the radio, and gerrymandered congressional districts have put us at a proverbial impasse. Yet where is the honorable statesmanship that so many Republicans have exercised in the past? Former Presidents Eisenhower and Ford, Senators Nancy Kassebaum, Bob Dole, John Warner, former Speaker Bob Michel, and yes, former President Ronald Reagan would never have allowed this shutdown to happen on their watch. Reagan's statesmanship and willingness to be in dialogue with Tip O'Neill were admirable aspects of his presidency. For Speaker Boehner to risk his post for the good of the nation could be the defining moment of his career, just as Gore's concession speech was the defining moment of his.
Towards the close of his 2000 concession speech, Gore made his most important statement: "This is America. Just as we fight hard when the stakes are high, we close ranks and come together when the contest is done. And while there will be time enough to debate our continuing differences, now is the time to recognize that that which unites us is greater than that which divides us." If American democracy is to thrive and flourish, this statement has to be as true today as it was in 2000. The shutdown is no longer about Obamacare, but the foundations of our democratic system. As he assesses his next round of talking points, I hope Speaker Boehner will watch the Vice-President's concession speech on youtube.