To be honest, at this point the vice president seems just a little pathetic. There he was Monday night, practically begging the nation to support him in his unending fight for the White House.
I cast my vote for him because I believe in his integrity and because I am convinced he is more qualified to be president than is his opponent. Like millions of other Americans, however, I've always been astounded by his political naivete.
This election was his race to win, and he had one of the most effective teachers in all of modern politics in President Clinton. Thanks to impressive survival skills, Clinton, who got himself impeached for lying under oath after he turned the Oval Office into a cheap hotel room, still remains an extremely popular president. But Gore somehow missed the lesson and failed to present anything like the solid, substantive candidacy he was capable of putting forth.
What happened to Gore on the way to the White House should surprise no one. He was simply blindsided, as the naive often are.
Al Gore tries to be what politics should be about: truth, fairness and a lack of cynicism. Sure, he exaggerates sometimes, but in fact he is detached (at his peril) from what politics is really about: fabrication and fiction. When Gore gives a speech, his earnestness comes through loud and clear. Whenever he speaks while standing in front of the American flag, I can almost hear the muted strains of "America, the Beautiful" bathing his words.
With Bush, that same flag seems no more than a political prop to help him look presidential. George W. strikes me as a man who knows how to win a political contest and has no misgivings about doing whatever it takes to come out on top. Perhaps, if not for Bush's ambition, this entire abysmal Florida affair might be over by now. It was Bush's team that overreached to seek solace from the U.S. Supreme Court.
It is hardly coincidental that the final controversy surrounding the race arrived in Florida, home of Bush's brother, Gov. Jeb Bush. Nor was it simply fortuitous that one of George W.'s chief operatives, Florida Secretary of State Katherine Harris, was on hand to shut down the ballot-counting process and declare Florida's 25 electoral votes for Bush.
If, thanks to some gift from the court, Gore ultimately manages to win the election, he will do so in spite of himself. No president has had to win court consent before taking his seat in the Oval Office. But Gore, who believes so resolutely in the system, failed to adequately protect his political interests. Now his future in politics rests with the court, scheduled to rule in a few days on counting the ballots in Florida in the closest presidential race in history.
Gore had better hope that the court is not like most of us who have finally lost sympathy for him. Politics being what it is, it's amazing this man has risen so high in public life. He did so largely because he offered such a clean and firm contrast to President Clinton's reputation for duplicity.
In his five-minute televised talk to the nation Monday night, the vice president declared that he keeps fighting to win the election not for himself, but out of a desire to protect the "integrity of democracy," which he says will be judged 200 years from now. He very probably meant that.
Meanwhile, Bush, obviously less concerned about the judgment of history, moved forward this week by appointing his chief of staff and asking Dick Cheney to head up their transition team.
Gore reminds me of a young man named Alan, the son of an Irish friend of mine, Tom O'Connor. Tom tugged meanly at his hair the day his son graduated from college in Massachusetts. On the way home in New York, the boy was stopped by a streetwise hustler intent on selling the boy a watch.
After the sale, the young man continued to his parents' home. His father took one look at the watch his son proudly wore, and quickly discovered there was nothing inside of it.
"Didn't you learn anything all the time you were up there?" Tom O'Connor lamented.
Alan, innocent young man, had no reasonable response. Al Gore is like Alan, the young man who bought a fake watch: no real answer, just a floundering search for ways to get out of it.