President-elect George W. Bush promised Wednesday night to unite a deeply divided nation as he accepted the reins of the presidency after one of the most bitterly fought races for the White House in modern history.
The son of a former president sounded a theme of optimism in his televised address to the nation and said he would “seize this moment” in history and rise above partisan politics to govern as the nation’s 43rd president.
“Our nation must rise above a house divided,” Bush said. “Americans share hopes and goals and values, far more important than any political disagreements. Republicans want what’s best for our nation and so do Democrats. Our votes may differ, not our hopes. I know Americans want reconciliation and unity.”
Vice President Al Gore effectively delivered the office to Bush in a concession speech earlier in the evening, ending a tumultuous five-week battle, a political contest that ultimately ended with an unprecedented legal fight. It sets the stage for a difficult transition to the nation’s highest post for Bush, political experts say, because he does not enter office with a clear mandate.
A Confident, Prayerful Bush
Bush strode confidently into a Texas legislative chamber he has come to know well and that he hopes will serve as a model for how Republicans and Democrats can work together in Washington. He seemed clearly pleased to be introduced by Texas’ top elected Democrat, House Speaker Pete Laney.
Bush — his wife, Laura, beaming as she looked on — acknowledged that he would face difficulties with the divisions among the nation’s leaders, but said he was optimistic about working with lawmakers on both sides of the aisle. He was surrounded by his family and a bipartisan group of Texas legislators as he spoke to the nation at 10 p.m. ET.
“Here, in a place where Democrats have the majority, Republicans and Democrats have worked together to do what is right for the people we represent,” said Bush, who spoke slowly and methodically, as he read the television prompter cueing his speech. “We had spirited disagreements, and in the end, we found constructive consensus. It is an experience I will always carry with me, and an example, I will always follow.”
He promised, however, to work with both parties to make good on his election campaign policies to improve schools, save Social Security and strengthen Medicare. He also said he would give Americans “the broad, fair and fiscally responsible tax relief they deserve.”
Throughout his speech, he thanked many and offered prayers.
Bush announced he was running for the nation’s highest office on June 12, 1999, in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. From the beginning, Bush positioned himself as a folksy, moderate Republican from Texas, a leader who could reach out to both sides of the political aisle.
He promised tonight to bring that conciliatory fashion to Washington, and though political experts believe he will have difficulties mending long-held political divides in a post-Clinton era, Bush will for the first time since former President Eisenhower begin office with a Republican-controlled Congress.
Bush’s presidency also will mark a milestone in American history: It will be the second time that a son has followed his father’s footsteps into the White House. The previous pair was John Adams, the nation’s second president, and his son John Quincy Adams, the sixth commander in chief. George W’s father lost his re-election bid to Bill Clinton in 1992.