- The Washington Times - Friday, December 15, 2000

Wednesday night showed why people are drawn to politics. Al Gore did not pursue a public life because he wanted a career that would reward him for flip-flopping and hedging. George W. Bush did not enter the arena because he wanted to raise record amounts of campaign lucre.

They got into politics for the moments that allow them to be great. And we, the public, watch not just to catch them when they stumble, not for the catty pleasure of dishing one guy for being wooden and the other for looking like a deer in the headlights. We watch for the rare moments when they tower above campaign pander mode. The golden minutes when they lead, instead of sniffing around the polls. The glorious instances in which they put aside their yearning to beat the other side in a satisfying petty victory and instead talk to history.

The Bush people know how to put on a pageant. The Texas governor wisely addressed the nation from the Texas House of Representatives, where he was introduced by the Democratic speaker. An audience of politicians was not likely to mar the occasion with gloating and catcalls. Bush's was a victory so close and so messily won that it demanded humility, and he gave it. In addition, the venue allowed Bush to showcase his ability to work with Democrats. Thus, Bush put partisans from both parties on notice when he told the country, “I was not elected to serve one party, but to serve one nation.”

Dem leaders Dick Gephardt of the House and Tom Daschle of the Senate are going to have to try to look as if they're not nipping at Dubya's heels. GOP leaders Denny Hastert and Trent Lott better behave and be good ol' boys.

The real star last night was Gore. Not since he went to Vietnam to serve in a war that most of his Harvard classmates managed to avoid has Al Gore seemed so tall.

Gore was gracious. He might have mentioned that he won a plurality of the vote, as he has done during the last 36 days, but chose not to. Instead of prodding Team Bush about a Florida outcome that always will bear a question mark, Gore gently directed digs at himself. The vice president noted that he plans to “spend time in Tennessee and mend some fences, literally and figuratively” … a nod to what must be a painful loss in his home state. As is common, Gore never risked genuine self-criticism during the campaign. But in his concession speech, he ended in noting the irony that while he once campaigned with the slogan that it was time for Republicans to go, now “it's time for me to go.”

“As for the battle that ends tonight,” Gore explained, “I do believe as my father once said, that no matter how hard the loss, defeat can serve as well as victory to shape the soul and let the glory out.” Gore Sr.'s political and private-sector career was far more self-serving and far less noble than the good son cares to recognize, but it did have its grand moments.

In 1970, Gore experienced his first political defeat when his senator father lost a hard-fought re-election effort. The day after the bitter defeat, father and son rode a canoe on the Caney Fork River. “What would you do if you had had 32 years of service to the people, given to the highest ability, always doing what you thought was right, and then had been unceremoniously turned out of office?” the senator asked his son. “What would you do?”

“I'd take the 32 years, dad,” young Al Gore answered. In 1976, that young man won election to the House. On Wednesday night, Albert Arnold Gore Jr. graciously walked away with his 24 years and a coveted front-row seat in history.

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