- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 4, 2000

What do Sens. Ted Kennedy, Joe Biden and Joe Lieberman know about Al Gore that the American public does not? On Feb. 12, 1999, each of these men, and every other Democrat in the Senate, voted to keep Mr. Gore from the presidency of the United States. On that day the Senate ruled on the two impeachment counts before it: obstruction of justice, and perjury. Every single Democrat in the Senate voted against conviction on both counts. One after another these solons unburdened themselves of the opinion that the accusations and evidence did not rise to the level of impeachable offenses.
Had 17 Democrats joined the 50 Republicans who voted to impeach Bill Clinton, Mr. Gore would be president of the United States today. Some may say, and a few might believe, that each Democratic senator voted his conscience. Nonetheless, if even an ounce of political calculation went into that vote, every single Democratic senator, and almost every House Democrat as well, believed that their party and their country was better off with a wounded, disgraced and corrupt Bill Clinton at the helm, than with Mr. Gore.
The Constitution permits a person who has served less than two years of another's term to serve two terms of his own. Mr. Gore would not have been denied two full terms. Any vote after Jan. 21, 1999, ensured that he could have a chance to be the longest serving president save only Franklin Roosevelt. The Democrats could have had Mr. Gore for a possible 10 years but chose Mr. Clinton for eight.
It takes little imagination to see the advantage such a vote would have had for the Democrats. Mr. Gore would be an incumbent president. The country, exhausted by scandal and impeachment would be in a forgiving mood and have little sympathy for fund raising or other scandals Republicans might air. President Gore would by now have been able to allay the fears of his extremism on environmental matters, and to truly become his own man. The American electorate would be chary of trying three different presidents in less than two years. The theme of character and corruption which has kept Gov. George W. Bush in contention even in economic good times, would have no purchase as the country rallied around Mr. Gore.
Unlike President Ford it is unlikely that Mr. Gore would need to pardon, or would suffer from pardoning, a chastened Mr. Clinton. Not only does it appear the independent counsel will not prosecute Mr. Clinton, it is unlikely any possible jury would convict. Instead, William Jefferson Clinton, sanctioned by a federal judge, will likely soon be disbarred for substantially the same actions the Senate found not impeachable. This leads to the awkward conclusion Mr. Clinton is fit to be president but not a lawyer. If Mr. Gore chose to pardon Mr. Clinton he would have a plausible argument, used even now by Clinton supporters, that he had suffered enough for his transgressions. President Gore, as the incumbent, could take some credit for the continuing prosperity. He would be seen on trips abroad and gain stature far above what he now commands. The election would have been sewn up by Labor Day.
The presidency secure, the Democrats could turn with a will to retaking the House and Senate. President Gore could use his presence to strengthen the ticket in swing districts and raise money for the whole party. An added benefit would be that Hillary Clinton would be unlikely, as the wife of an impeached president, to run for Senate in New York. Money now being siphoned from Hollywood and New York for that race could be raised and targeted to close races throughout the country.
In short, a Democratic tsunami would be sweeping the nation, rather than the current razor thin presidential and congressional races. It does not take as Machiavellian a mind as Dick Morris' to figure out that running in 2000 with a clean, incumbent in good times would be better than running with Mr. Clinton, yet every Democrat eschewed this route. The question remains why?
Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan gave the game away during the primaries in supporting Bill Bradley for the simple reason that "Gore is unelectable." The Democratic Party has become addicted to Mr. Clinton and Clintonism. His premature loss filled them with dread. Indeed, the prospect of a Gore presidency created odd reactions on the left. It has nurtured the Nader boomlet, which threatens the Democrats in such states as Washington, Oregon, Michigan and New Mexico. Mr. Clinton, far more conservative, suffered no such defections. Mr. Gore's Senate colleagues' estimation of him is telling. Despite serving there for years he appears to have no close friends in the body. Some senators defend him on television, but more striking is the coolness of the entire Democratic contingent of the Senate to Mr. Gore. Former Sen. Bradley ran against him. Mr. Bradley drew his greatest political support from other senators.
What might these senators know that the American people do not? In the Senate personality matters. A far left liberal like Mr. Kennedy can reach across the aisle to a Republican like Orrin Hatch, on health care. A near socialist like Paul Wellstone can work with the left's version of Darth Vader, Jesse Helms, on human rights in China. But Mr. Gore's entire career is soaked in partisanship. He seems unwilling or unable, not only to reach across the aisle but even to work as equals with his fellow Democrats.
Perhaps the Democrats felt they were saving the country from a worse fate than having a perjurer in the White House. Now the American people have to decide. Each senator, including Joe Lieberman, must explain why he voted against Mr. Gore for president in February of 1999, but expects the voters to support him now.

John Julian Vecchione is an attorney at Ludwig & Robinson

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