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A Week to Live By

In her eloquent tribute to Ronald Reagan at Washington's National Cathedral on Friday, Margaret Thatcher noted that her former colleague cracked the cold war "by inviting enemies out of their fortresses and turning them into friends."

A good guideline for life, and not just foreign policy, this strategy is sorely needed on the battlefield of American politics today.

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Surely anyone who watched last week's televised commemorations or read the coverage, could not help noticing that for several days, the guns of partisanship fell silent. In the middle of an election year, campaigning stopped and government offices closed down.

Harmony seemed to settle over the country as even Mr. Reagan's detractors found something to appreciate about him - his kindness to his political enemies, for instance, or his welcome optimism after the gloomy years of Vietnam, Watergate, and inflation.

It could be argued that black clouds again hover over America. It's hard to put a finger on when they gathered, but the scandals of the Clinton years might be a starting point, followed by a messy presidential election decided by the Supreme Court, the dotcom bust and subsequent recession, Sept. 11, the war in Iraq and its aftermath, and a nation whose ideological 50-50 divide appears to be exploited by politicians, not bridged by them.

One senses that Americans need a lift. Since late last year, for example, a solid majority has believed the country is on the wrong track.

At the same time, the public responds well when political acrimony fades. In California, where Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has been forced to find common ground with the Democratic legislature, he enjoys high approval ratings. And isn't it telling that Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry saw his numbers bump up in a Los Angeles Times poll taken last week - when he did not campaign?

It hardly seems reasonable to expect that, as Republicans and Democrats return to electioneering, they'll embrace the bipartisan spirit. But whoever is elected to the White House would do well to remember last week's unity, and foster it.

If President Bush wins, it's not too late to fulfill his 2000 campaign promise to change the tone in Washington. If he can reach out to the United Nations and estranged allies as he did over Iraq last week, he can reach out to Democrats.

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In the Kerry camp, the idea of putting Republican Sen. John McCain on the ticket is again making headlines. Mr. McCain states disinterest. But one hopes that more than just election strategy is behind this intriguing running-mate concept. Perhaps it indicates that a President Kerry would reach across the aisle.


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