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Sunday January 29th

Bush Speech To Set Tone For Term

The answers could begin to trickle down on Saturday.

Jan. 20 is Inauguration Day. A day when the outgoing president officially hands over the post to the president-elect. It is usually a day of celebration.

And while Bush will still participate in all the usual inaugural activities, and Bush supporters will flock to Washington, it could also be a day for Bush to begin what he has promised all along -- uniting the nation.

In previous inaugural speeches presidents usually set the table for the next four years and reiterated old campaign promises.

In 1993, Bill Clinton spoke about America's role in a global economy and a world of rapidly changing technology.

In 1981, Ronald Reagan spoke about continuing the battle against Communism and pulling the country out of a recession.

If Bush follows the same pattern, Bush's speech will be about bridging the partisan gap.

But after the events of recent months, that might be easier said than done.

On Jan. 6, when Congress was officially tabulating the Electoral College vote, several Democratic members of Congress objected to the results of the election vote in Florida -- the state that put Bush over the top in the presidential race.

Also, for the first time ever, security in the city is going to be handled by the Secret Service. And more protesters than at any inauguration since 1973 -- when masses of people turned out to protest the U.S.'s involvement in Vietnam -- are expected to be in attendance.

But just weeks after Election Day, Ross Baker, a Rutgers University political science professor, said most of the American public will accept whoever wins the presidency.

"After the decision is made, the legitimacy of the president will not be questioned by the American people," Baker said. "Once he puts his hand on the Bible during inauguration, he will be the president."

Ironically, that Bible will be held by U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice William Rehnquist, one of the five justices who voted to stop the Florida recount which secured the Presidency for Bush -- a ruling that might have damaged the court's credibility and created another wound that Bush has to heal.

But during his life in public office Bush has shown the ability to unite political parties and attract traditionally Democratic constituents.

When running for his second term as governor of Texas, Bush won the race with nearly 70 percent of the vote. He also received 49 percent of the Hispanic vote, 27 percent of the black vote, 27 percent of Democrats and 65 percent of women.

Some signs of bipartisanship did shine through in the first few weeks after Bush won the presidency. Gore's concession speech almost a month after Election Day encouraged Americans to rally behind Bush. In early January, Republican and Democratic Senate leaders agreed to share committee chairs.

But things have unraveled somewhat in recent weeks as several Democrats have objected publically to the nomination of a conservative, former Missouri Sen. John Ashcroft, for the post of Attorney General. Bush also has stated that he will proceed as though he has a clear mandate from the people of America and has appointed few Democrats to posts in his cabinet.

Thursday night Clinton gave his farewell speech. Clinton closed the speech with three challenges for the future of the nation. The last of Clinton's three challenges was uniting the American people.

Clinton had eight years to do just that.

Now it's Bush's turn.

The State & National Editor can be reached at stntdesk@unc.edu.

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