Florida’s certification hints it’s time to move on now

It’s just about over.

George W. Bush has moved an immense step closer to leading the nation as president. His certification as the winner of Florida’s election — carried out in compliance with a Florida Supreme Court order won by the Gore campaign — was an important moment. For all Americans, the prospect of new leadership has come more clearly into focus.

If a new survey is correct, most Americans, in fact, are ready to accept Gov. Bush as the winner of the presidential election. The country has waited patiently. Properly, there’s a growing sense that the issue has been decided or, at the very least, is finally headed toward resolution.

Given the historic closeness of the voting, though, there’s room for legitimate debate on whether the results are final or not. Vice President Al Gore has chosen to pursue an aggressive legal battle to win the critical Florida electoral votes. Having lost in Florida, he is now contesting the election.

Up to now, the Gore strategy has been legitimate. The electoral and legal institutions have handled the difficulties well enough to make most Americans proud. If the shoe were on the other foot, moreover, the Republican side almost certainly would have been equally aggressive. Indeed, Gov. Bush’s legal team has been quick to seek federal court intervention. So there’s no shame in the Democrat’s strong pursuit of their available legal options.

Yet, contrary to what Democratic running mate Sen. Joseph Lieberman said Sunday, the Gore campaign does have a choice. It could decide to abandon its hot-pursuit policy — now or at any time. In fact, it would be arrogant of the Democratic leadership to keep pursuing this battle without more self-examination than it has exhibited so far.

Primarily, Democrats need to ask themselves how perfect an election result they will accept. Certainly, it’s unfortunate that Palm Beach County’s butterfly ballot confused some voters. And it’s frustrating that the court-ordered manual recount of Palm Beach votes wasn’t included in Florida’s certified results. Yet the Gore campaign should ask itself what the nation can do when a Democrat designs a ballot poorly and voters don’t make sure that they have voted properly. And what, for heaven’s sake, are the Florida justices to do when they gave the county extra time to complete a hand recount but the Democratic elections officials finished two hours too late — after having decided to take Thanksgiving off?

The Democrats, of course, can point to endless small problems that might add up to victory. In such a close election, though, the questions run just as numerously the other way.

Eventually, the questions will be resolved. Whether the answers finally come from the courts, the Florida legislature, the Electoral College or Congress, Americans can be proud that we will resolve the presidential election peacefully and legally. And then we will move on. If that comes soon rather than later, so much the better.

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