A dismayed America reassures itself with a group hug as it faces ridicule overseas and confusion at home

PUBLISHED : Monday, 13 November, 2000, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 13 November, 2000, 12:00am

Crisis? What crisis? Much of the world may be looking askance at America's deepening electoral uncertainty five days after the presidential election but within the United States, it seems a sense of optimism and even proud self-regard is alive and well.

President Bill Clinton sought to set the mood in his weekly radio address on Saturday, telling Americans to be patient. Praising his deputy Al Gore and Republican rival George W. Bush for a vigorous campaign, Mr Clinton told Americans they had nothing to fear 'regardless of the outcome'.

'We will come together as a nation as we always do,' he said. 'The events unfolding in Florida are not a sign of the division of our nation, but of the vitality of our debate . . . we are seeing democracy in action.'

Mr Clinton's confidence is such that he is pushing ahead with a trip to Brunei and Vietnam this week - a trip that could prove advantageous to Mr Gore, allowing him to run the White House and look 'presidential' at such a crucial moment.

Mr Gore has returned to his official residence in Washington, spending the weekend playing touch football with his family in the grounds - images that have drawn comparisons to former president John F. Kennedy's relaxed games after the tension of the 1960 cliffhanger.

Mr Clinton's tone has been echoed by many commentators and scholars over the last few days, who believe the US system is up to the unprecedented challenge of an increasingly intense dispute between two presidential candidates after the closest election in decades.

Tensions will rise another notch today when Republicans seek court action in the Florida courts to stop Democrat demands of hand recounts of ballots in a bid to destroy Mr Bush's narrow, but crucial, 327-vote lead.

The 96 million votes cast last week have come down to such a tiny margin due to the American Electoral College system. To win office, a candidate must snare 270 of the 538 College votes - and Florida's 25 votes are crucial.

James Rubin, a former state department spokesman now living in London, said it was 'absurd' for Americans to worry about the criticism and mockery of the rest of the world.

'Sure, by calling Florida for Gore, then for Bush, then for nobody, the [television] networks have needlessly caused heads to spin in America and around the world,' Mr Rubin told the Washington Post.

'Our answer should be simple: relax. We have 2.5 months until the inauguration. President Clinton will be in charge until then.'

Leading constitutional lawyer Floyd Abrams said Americans had nothing to fear from the court wrangling as it would only help 'determine the truth'.'It seems to me that our country is not as fragile as people think . . . we want to know the truth about who won this election,' he said.

European diplomats said the more intense the infighting becomes, the more vocal such pacifying messages will become.

'We've seen it time and again. When the going gets tough, Americans circle the wagons and start praising themselves. We sneer and grumble but it seems to work for them,' one said.

International commentators have been having a field day, as have countries that have long had a tense relationship with the US, including Libya, Cuba and Russia.