Column: Gore in Four?





Mr. Carpenter is a writer and doctoral candidate in American history at the University of Illinois.

While reading reports on the recently released news-consortium finding that both Bush and Gore won Florida and both Bush and Gore lost Florida, I, along with most Americans, was prepared to chuck remembrance of the whole wretched affair until Chesire Puddy-Tat Fleischer opened his mouth and revealed the battered feathers:"Anybody who invests time and money in this is wasting their time and money. The president is paying no attention to this."

The latter sentence, of course, failed to surprise. It's hard enough to rev up the man's curiosity in looming matters, let alone some fiddle-de-dee study of American democracy. No, it was the former that intrigued."Anybody" bothering with something the Washington Post went so far as to label a"sensational revelation" was, essentially, foolish. (The revelation:"If there had been some way last fall to recount every vote--undervotes and overvotes alike, in all 67 Florida counties--former vice president Al Gore likely would be in the White House.") Nothing--absolutely nothing--can prompt more interest than Ari telling us to look the other way. And before the right-wing goons cough up the usual paranoid fantasies about the liberal media rigging the report's outcome, the St. Petersburg Times (a consortium cosponsor) provided the advance rejoinder:"Any claims of bias in the conception or execution of the project are the product of sore losers, or sore winners."

One of the foolish folks wasting his time on this Grand Insignificance was news-analyst Richard Berke of the New York Times. He wrote"the reality... is that Mr. Bush's victory in the most fouled-up, disputed and wrenching presidential election in American history was so breathtakingly narrow that there is no way of knowing with absolute precision who got the most votes." Notwithstanding the questionable merits of Berke's syllogism that a narrow election precludes a precise count, he undoubtedly hit the nail on the head when saying"there is no way of knowing"--in the word's truest epistemological sense--"who got the most votes." God and Katherine Harris may claim they know, but the way this planet is going I'm not too sure I trust God, to say nothing of Harris.

The simpler reality remains this: putting aside the different methods of tabulating vote-counts advocated by either side, more people voted or thought they had voted for Gore than Bush. That is undisputed by even reasonable conservative voices, who would much prefer to talk about tangible legalities than intent. I have no problem with that, for reasonable Democratic voices would have made the same argument had Gore won. Still, they would have known, deep down, just as conservatives do today, that the other guy's guy had indeed won the prize.

But as talk-radio callers are wont to say after devoting several minutes of precious airtime to spouting an opinion on something wholly irrelevant, that's not why I called. I only called to say I hope Al is picking up a lot of negative vibes on his perambulations throughout New Hampshire, Maine, and Iowa. A good number of news stories have suggested the bad vibes are there--emanating especially from the political money-raising people, who are, after all, damn near the only ones who count. I hope, Al, having tuned in, you'll soon tune out.

Just as it's no surprise to learn the president is paying"no attention" to a front-page news story, the reason for hoping Al begs off is no surprise. As a candidate, he stinks. Gore should not merely have won the election. Against the bumbling governor, he should have taken it by storm.

This is not to say that he offers no needed alternative politics. Nor is it to say that Gore would be less than a passable, if not commendable, leader. Once he's where he wants to be, he seems to loosen up and take charge. For Gore and everyone else, it's the getting there that's a killer.

Not a day passed in 2000 without editorial comment on how uncomfortable Al Gore was with himself. Echoing this, the Bush camp's singular truth throughout the campaign was that Al was forever reinventing Al--from alpha to macho to rehearsed relaxation to... whatever. After a while no one much cared what image he reeked, and apathy in politics is a bigger killer than contempt. Though it's true Gore was burdened with 8 years of peace and prosperity--always a tough nut to crack--his principal burden was that he simply couldn't ignore the camera. When viewing the"extemporaneous" Broadcast Al, one could see the wheels turning, always turning."Should I say this? Should I say that? Will this offend? Will that offend?" In heaven's name, man, just say what bloody hell is on your mind.

To an eerie degree, Gore evinced the ghost of Nixon. Not the distrustful, disturbed, anxiety-ridden, friendless, dementedly fearful Nixon--but the loner Nixon, uncomfortable with himself and around people. Our 37th president knew the political lay of the land and all the tricks better than most, but put him before the red light of a camera and you could see the calculating, paranoid beads of sweat take form. You could see an intelligent, articulate, well-informed man decompose before your eyes, live. He hid from viewers--and himself.

On the air, Gore decomposed as well. Losing one debate to the likes of George W. is cause for slinking off in fitting humiliation. Losing two calls for a summary prohibition from politics. True, had voters somehow been able to secretly watch Al and W. debate issues while getting half-looped at the neighborhood pub together, there would have been nothing left of W. to heave into the cab home. The spectacle of lions devouring Christians would have seemed gentler. But they weren't alone, and Gore went Nixon on us. Someone flipped on the little red light and he froze in place as phony in appearance as the House-stimulus package. His once-sound thrashing of Perot on Larry King Live soon became an enigma, not a remembered victory.

Like Nixon, Gore is insecure. Sincere maybe, but insecure. Secure chaps don't need advise on how to behave like themselves. They'd flog any advisor advising such silliness. That comes across. During the campaign I considered adopting some hallelujah-religion just so I could earnestly pray that Al behave like his real self for a change, whatever that might be. I sought prayer--that seeming the only hope left--not because of any political predilection for Gore, but out of intestinal fright of the alternative and consequent survival instinct. I'll leave history to bear me out on that one.

Al, you had your chance. Now kindly move aside and free up the money.


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