The ubiquitous Jesse Jackson said during one of his countless TV appearances that George W. Bush will be president "legally" but will lack the moral authority to lead the country.
Al Gore, the Democrats' unsuccessful candidate for the job that Bush won, stood before the TV cameras and declared: "I say to President-elect Bush that what remains of partisan rancor must now be put aside, and may God bless his stewardship of this country."
So here's the question for rank-and-file Democrats. Which message will you take to heart as you attempt to come to grips with Bush's victory: the divisive naysaying of Jackson or the gracious, bring-us-together oratory of Gore?
Jackson wasn't the only Democrat to downgrade Bush's triumph, just the loudest and most famous. The Fort Worth Star-Telegram quoted a local party leader: "Bush's presidency is not legitimate."
That could be exactly what Gore thinks. If it is, though, he gallantly kept his true feelings in check Wednesday when he acknowledged that Bush had prevailed in the presidential election.
However angry and bitter Gore may be about the outcome and it's a safe bet that he's plenty angry and bitter he took the high road during his concession speech.
His detractors might suspect that the vice president's upbeat, magnanimous tone was less than sincere, but it doesn't matter. Heartfelt or feigned, Gore did the right thing, said the right things, sent the right signals. He even got the last laugh over that "time for them to go" gibe that he used against a previous President Bush and which vice-presidential candidate Dick Cheney later tossed back at him.
"And now, my friends, in a phrase I once addressed to others, it's time for me to go," Gore quipped at the end of his speech.
It was a nice touch, a humanizing gesture. Too bad he didn't offer up more such gestures and less condescending ponderousness during the campaign.
Gore confessed his adamant disagreement with the U.S. Supreme Court ruling that ended his recount efforts in Florida, but spared us any further sermonizing about "fair and accurate" tabulation of ballots. He resisted the temptation to make Bush's job of reuniting the country any more difficult than it has to be in the wake of such a hotly contested election.
But will his supporters follow Gore's lead? Will they confirm his belief that "President-elect Bush inherits a nation whose citizens will be ready to assist him in the conduct of his large responsibilities"?
It would be easy enough for Gore-backers and Bush-haters to argue that Republicans never would have accepted Gore as president and therefore they shouldn't accept Bush as president. It's a fair argument, when you consider how ugly the post-campaign campaign became before the Supreme Court put an end to it.
But even if they are absolutely convinced that Republicans would have trashed a Gore presidency I don't believe that the responsible majority of Republicans would have shouldn't Democrats want to show the world that they are better than that? No matter how disappointed they are, no matter how alienated they feel, shouldn't Democrats heed the generous words of the one man who would have a license to wallow in disappointment and alienation if he chose to do so?
"While we yet hold and do not yield our opposing beliefs," Gore said, "there is a higher duty than the one we owe to political party. This is America and we put country before party. We will stand together behind our new president."
We will stand together behind our new president. He didn't qualify it. He didn't urge his supporters to stand behind the new president unless they're upset about the way he got the job or they're ticked off at the Supreme Court or they think that punch-card ballots are a crime against humanity.
If the man whose hopes and dreams were shattered by this election is willing to do the right thing, shouldn't those who followed him follow him one more time?