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Transforming the red and blue into the red, white and blue

DON C. BRUNELL

Thankfully, the elections are over. Hopefully, the economy won't collapse with the end of campaign spending. More than $4 billion was spent on federal elections, $1.2 billion of that on the presidential race alone.

So the key question is, "Where do we go from here?"

For months, the Bush and Kerry campaigns permeated the airwaves talking about the issues and philosophies that divide us and thus, what splits America. If that wasn't bad enough, attack ads bankrolled by independent interest groups, empowered by campaign finance "reform," portrayed opposing candidates as villains or untrustworthy clods.

In the end, President Bush received almost five million more votes than Senator Kerry and more than enough electoral votes to be re-elected. But five million votes out of more than 110 million votes cast is hardly a landslide. Now President Bush goes back to the White House and John Kerry returns to the U.S. Senate in search of ways to bring the country together.

Both the President and Kerry recognize that no one will have won if the nation remains as angrily divided as it was on election night. Simply put, if something is not done to transform the bitterness of the "Reds" and the "Blues" into support for the red, white and blue, we will be a weakened nation, at home and abroad.

The same can be said for Washington state. With the closeness of the gubernatorial election, almost half the voters will feel the wrong person will live in the governor's mansion starting next January.

So, how does the healing process begin?

First, Congress and the President need to take a hard look at the federal election laws. The so-called "independent expenditures" are out of control. Why not change the law and direct the funds back through the parties and campaigns. At least voters will know if the party or the candidate is responsible for the "hit pieces" and "attack ads." Then they can hold them accountable at the polls.

Second, why not give the news anchors and political pundits the rest of the year off? Their constant chatter about the deep divisions between rural and urban America only fuels antagonism.

Third, all of us need to listen more than we talk. Rather than trying to convince one another of the merits of our position or argument, why not look for ways to find common ground.

Fourth, we need to determine the issues that will govern our future. Our competitors around the world aren't going take a hiatus while we try to figure that out.

Finally, with the record number of people energized to vote, why not capture that momentum by restoring trust in the representative process of government. That means developing bipartisan solutions rather than jamming one-sided proposals through the process-and that will require various interest groups to sit down and try to hammer out joint proposals.

It will not be easy - nothing worthwhile ever is - but there is too much at stake not to try. Both John Kerry and George Bush provided an opening in their gracious post-election statements on Nov. 3. Why not try a new direction?

Don C. Brunell is president of the Association of Washington Business.

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