Vice President Gore delivered perhaps his best speech conceding the election where he validates that George W. Bush as the 43rd President.
“While we yet hold and do not yield our opposing beliefs, there is a higher duty than the one we owe to political party. This is America and we put country before party. We will stand together behind our new president. “
It was an honorable speech that unequivocally legitimized the election even though (to this day) there are questions about the count and the Supreme Court decision. The Gallup poll in April 2001 showed that even though many Americans thought he had won the election on a technicality, 70% viewed him as the legitimate President. After 9/11 the country rallied behind Bush and his legitimacy was never in doubt again. Imagine what would have happened to President Bush if Gore never dismissed the concerns – how could he have led if the opposition party constantly reminded America that Bush didn’t win a majority of votes.
The “Birther” claims are not so much about removing Obama from office – but instead are a way to delegitimize him and his administration. It is not longer sufficient to disagree with an opponent or to malign them personally. When that fails then de-legitimize them. This approach may prove politically astute in the short term, the longer term consequences are significant.
These statistics are important because they show that for virtually the entire history of the United States Americans have been divided. Different approaches to the issues of the day are a constant. They should be expected and even welcomed. Political polarization isn’t new. The Jefferson-Adams race of 1800 was particularly nasty with one calling the other “bald and stupid” and the other responding with “murderer and whoremonger.” Vitriol in politics is part of the process.
The “Birther” movement is different. It aims to de-legitimize the President, and more dangerously the institution of the Presidency itself. More immediately it is a tremendous blow to honor. Honor and politics? I know, I know. It is honorable and necessary in a democracy to disagree – to passionately and vigorously debate the issues of the day. Certainly in a country that has been evenly divided for nearly our entire history we can find a way to disagree without destroying the very democracy that allows the disagreement to occur.