Comeback Is Futile for Gore

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On Saturday, the most unlucky man in America returned to the place where his dreams died a year and a half ago. Clean shaven and sharp-tongued, Al Gore traveled to Florida to address the state Democratic Party convention and face the demons still haunting him.

This weekend seemed like an exercise in testing the political water, an unfortunate thought for those who don’t wish to see Gore’s heart broken again in 2004.

Florida, you’ll recall, kept the 2000 presidential election hanging in the balance for weeks before George W. Bush’s 537-vote margin finally became official.

Gore returned there on Saturday, taking numerous verbal swipes at the sitting president, calling the GOP “the pirates of Enron.” In his first major speech since conceding the 2000 election, the former vice president revealed nothing about his future political ambitions. Instead, Gore’s address served as a party building tool, aimed at rallying Florida Democrats for their 2002 gubernatorial contest.

Beneath the surface, however, Saturday’s appearance had significant personal implications for Gore. The convention aimed to mobilize Democrats in Florida as they attempt to oust sitting Governor Jeb Bush, the brother of Gore’s tormentor. This thirst for vengeance remains one of the oldest and most treacherous human impulses, yet it cannot heal Gore’s political wounds.

More important than revenge against George W’s kid brother, though, Gore’s presence fueled speculation that he intends to claim the job he still covets.

Gore appeared in Florida with other Democratic presidential hopefuls. But despite his heart-wrenching defeat in 2000, Gore remains a more formidable opponent than any of his in-party rivals. The former Democratic presidential nominee possesses valuable campaign experience as well as a vast fundraising network. Even more crucial, Gore has the loyalty of a core of Democratic supporters who believe Bush stole the 2000 election. These people would walk through fire if Gore asked them. And in a party primary with numerous Democratic candidates, this gives Gore a significant head start.

Yet in truth, no one really wants to see Al Gore run because even the most twisted sadists don’t have the heart to seem him lose again. Many, including myself, would like to see him win. But in the end, no sane person believes Gore can prevail. His die-hard supporters may go to their graves defending the Tennessee native, yet at some level they must know they cannot save the man from a fate of tragic disappointment.

In 2000, the vice president enjoyed the power of an incumbent office, as well as the bullish economic legacy of the Clinton administration. Gore’s opponent bumbled and misspoke his way through a painfully inarticulate campaign, presenting himself as an oblivious and overpriced dolt. When the dust settled, however, Gore found himself standing in the loneliest place in America, with no recourse but to hopelessly wail and grind his teeth.

Fast forward to the present, and President Bush enjoys a thoroughly transformed image. A clear majority of Americans now stand behind Bush, despite the president’s continuing struggle against the English language. All the advantages Gore carried in 2000 vanished as September’s tragedy forged a new leader in the White House.

In truth, no Democrat has a chance of unseating Bush in 2004, despite what the left’s hopefuls claim. Even as they try to define differences between themselves and Bush in domestic policy, Democrats can’t deny the contemporary current of national unity.

Some suggest that George W. may follow his father’s ill fated path, relying on the popular support of a military campaign while neglecting the economy. Those people apparently lack the perspective to realize that Sept. 11 left a far greater impact than the Persian Gulf War or anything else before it. Comparing the current President’s popularity to his father’s 90 percent Gulf War approval rate?or to anything else?makes no sense because the events we witnessed have no precedent.

The current economic slump doesn’t present nearly enough concern to jar Americans from their national security mindset. No issue the Democrats focus on, from economics to health care, will prevent Bush from repeating. No challenger, regardless of how strong, can keep Bush out of the White House. So why nominate Gore and wish an even crueler fate on the man who suffered the disappointment of the narrowest presidential loss ever?

Gore can’t win, so Democrats should save the man from himself. The image of the former vice president after his 2000 defeat remains one of the saddest in recent political memory. Gore fought the good fight and gave a gracious concession after the Supreme Court essentially decided the election. But anyone who has followed Gore’s political career knows how deeply the wounds must have cut. The dream he spent a lifetime chasing nearly came true, only to be ripped away at the last moment. The thought of Gore re-entering the political fray conjures images of Rocky Balboa entering the ring to preserve his honor and dignity, only to face the inevitable pummeling. Such a fate does not befit a man like Gore, who served his country well.

Democrats should spare political on-lookers the heartache of watching Gore’s spirit broken again. Democrats should concede the 2004 election like Republicans did in 1996 when they put up Bob Dole. The Senator from Kansas gave a lifetime of service to his party and his country, but he made a lousy presidential candidate. So the Republicans “rewarded” Dole for his years of work by nominating him to give the party’s concession speech in November.

The GOP knew that no one would beat Clinton in 1996. Democrats must recognize Bush’s invincibility in 2004. They should nominate someone like Tom Daschle from South Dakota, a long-time party stalwart who could never win a presidential election. Why risk the possibility that Daschle might crash the party in 2008? Nominate him for the coming contest and get him out of the way so a true contender like North Carolina’s John Edwards can rise after Bush’s two terms expire.

Conceding an election doesn’t mean not trying. It means picking your battles and living to fight another day. Meanwhile, fighters as stubborn as Al Gore simply need to be told when their best days have passed them by.

James welcomes feedback at: [email protected] or send letters to the editor to: [email protected].