- The Washington Times - Friday, December 15, 2000

It's finally here, the day the nation has long awaited, the one to usher in a new age of what was it that Thomas Jefferson called it? "freedom and harmony." As the clock struck midnight Tuesday night, as Florida's 25 electors found "safe harbor" with George W. Bush, the self-imposed exile of Alec ("Stone'em") Baldwin, Kim ("My husband is the biggest moralist I know") Bassinger and Robert ("If George Bush is elected president, I'm leaving for France") Altman became not a threat, not a promise, but a sure thing.

Remember when this wing of Hollywood's histrionic left vowed to leave the country in the event of a Bush victory? It is now time for them to go, too. And not only will the country soon be a more serene place, but there are still nine shopping days left until Christmas. Break out the bubbly.

Fat chance, of course, that these show biz showboats will ever honor their vows. But maybe some of the "Get out of Cheney's house" protesters who have broken in their bullhorns outside the vice president's house could be persuaded to take on a new, good-of-the-country eviction cause. Mr. Gore, after all, will be leaving soon, floating out on a politically pink cloud of glory following his graceful exit speech on Wednesday night. It was, in many ways, a remarkable performance, one that, improbably enough, managed to soar above the mucky reality of the postelection trench war the vice president has led the nation through during the past five-plus weeks.

But as gracious as Mr. Gore was on Wednesday night, there was something lacking about the event. Mr. Gore's concession speech came 37 days after Election Day, at that point in the vice president's career when, as he likes to say, he could "fight" no more. Not that he didn't try. Even after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled 5-4 to end the chaotic Florida recount with, significantly, seven of the nine federal justices agreeing that the chad-checking scheme cobbled together, 4-3, by the Florida Supreme Court was unconstitutional Mr. Vice President was still Mr. Full Metal Jacket.

According to The Washington Post, Mr. Gore "grilled the attorneys and urged them to dig all night … Let them plan a last, desperate stand. Let them read and reread the Supreme Court's 'convoluted' decision in search of any loophole."

The search, obviously, was enough of a wild goose chase to bring Mr. Gore's vote-hunting season to an official end. It was time to bow out. The resulting concession speech was loftily conceived and gratefully received. The vice president actually used the word "concession." He used the word "congratulated." He spoke stirringly to urge all Americans, particularly his own supporters, to "unite behind our next president." These are lovely sentiments, all.

But a concession speech, it turns out, needs more than lovely sentiments to serve the transfer of power well. In 1960, when Richard Nixon failed to contest the close and questionable victory John F. Kennedy had won, Nixon's concession came in the form of a terse telegram. "No class," Kennedy is said to have remarked. But more important, Nixon's act of concession came immediately after the election, thus sparing the nation the traumatic kind of experience it has only just undergone. Mr. Gore, of course, spared the nation nothing: not a single legal wrangle, not a single political assault and not a single opportunistic effort to exploit the slim, if durable, Bush victory. In the end, the speech Mr. Gore gave, while assuredly welcome, may do more to restore his own image than to repair any damage done to the nation and its institutions by the vice president's unprecedented scorched-earth, post-election campaign.

In any election, but particularly in an election like this one that ended in a statistical dead heat, the concession speech is more just a formal and traditional nicety. It functions as a vital salve, a requisite act of grace and strength that serves to fortify, not just adorn, the peaceful and legitimate transfer of power.

This couldn't be clearer after the unbearable political limbo of the last five weeks. By speaking his beautiful words from the edge of the political precipice and not before Mr. Gore engaged in an act that seemed to be as much a form of political surrender as of concession. Why? Because the vice president was finally and belatedly giving up something he had striven too long to keep.

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