Covering the Front and Back Pages of the Newspaper
November 20, 2002
POLITICS: So, Gore is back
So, Gore is back. The 'new' Al Gore, again. Let's review where we've been:
When the 2000 election ended with Gore losing by a few hundred votes in Florida, he didn't have to demand a manual recount. If he'd conceded with dignity after the (statutorily required) machine recount, he could have placed himself above the fray while his surrogates blasted the voting 'irregularities' and demanded a Senate investigation. Instead of disappearing for most of 2001, he could simply have vanished in mid-November 2000, and re-emerged in February 2001, having allowed a decent interval for Bush to assemble his team. Gore's dignified refusal to drag the nation through a recount would have given him standing, as the wounded party in the election and the man who got the most votes, to announce that he was going to consider himself the leader of the loyal opposition, declare himself immediately to be a candidate in 2004, and make regular public speeches criticizing Bush and explaining his own agenda.
He didn't. He spent much of his credibility and his remaining good will with the American people in the recount, including his stubborn insistence on a recount strategy that was selective and inconsistent, proclaiming the need to "count every vote" while asking only for recounts in the most Democratic parts of the state and where they would be conducted by Democratic local officials, while aggressively challenging the counting of absentee ballots by members of the Armed Forces. Then, having committed himself to a full-fledged assault on the legitimacy of the Bush presidency, Gore went into hiding for many months, leaving the Democrats leaderless. Partly this was necessary to heal the wounds his recount strategy had inflicted. But it was also, by his own admission, because Gore needed to get away after the crushing end to his presidential hopes.
In short, both Gore's recount strategy and his subsequent withdrawal from public life were poor strategic decisions driven by Gore's tendency to let his emotional needs and his overweening personal ambition get the better of his judgment under pressure. Ditto for his unqualified sycophancy to Clinton during the impeachment crisis; ditto for his decision to take the agressive posture pushed by his daughter that there was "no controlling legal authority" in his violation of an unambiguous century-old federal statute; ditto for his inability to control his audible sighs during the first debate, which he now admits was a mistake but says was the result of his exasperation with Bush. For all the portrayals of Gore as a robot without a pulse, the real Al is a guy whose decisionmaking ability and judgment under pressure is apt to be overcome and compromised by his emotions.
In times of a complex and frustrating war against a shadowy enemy, when we need to constantly demonstrate both unbreaking resolve and thoughtful restraint; when we must place tremendous pressure on our allies while making a show of our respect for their independence (you don't sigh and roll your eyes when dealing with evasive French bureaucrats); when the American people need reassurance that the president's bearings are unshakeable; when we can easily find ourselves dealing all at once with an elusive renegade in bin Laden, a potential revolution in Iran, and a nuclear-armed lunaticocracy in North Korea while trying to hold together the coalition for war with Iraq; is that the kind of man we want at the helm?