- The Washington Times - Friday, December 15, 2000

It's over. Gore lost and Bush won. But we have known that was going to happen for at least two weeks, when it became clear that the Republicans had the exits covered. No matter what, the Florida legislature or the Republican-controlled Congress assured that Bush would win - win ugly, but win nonetheless.

So the question isn't so much, "Why did Gore lose?" Everyone knows - or thinks they know - the answer to that question. The more interesting question is, "Why did Gore take so long to give up?"

The first presumption, merits notwithstanding, is that Gore believed he actually won. Nobody likes to admit defeat when they think it's an unfair result. But even if you think you got a bad call in a basketball game, you still have to leave the court when the buzzer sounds.

Gore reasoned differently and, as a result, was willing to polarize the electorate, tarnish America's reputation and undermine public confidence in the courts. What must Gore think when he hears his advocate Jesse Jackson invoke the memory of Holocaust victims and play the race card for Gore's cause?

A second presumption is that Gore believed such damage is an acceptable price because of the important differences between his agenda and George W. Bush's. OK, let's factor both of those suppositions into the equation.

There's still a third variable that cannot be ignored. And that is Al Gore's ambition.

In 1991, Al Gore remarked that a candidate needs to be willing to "rip the heart and lungs out of anybody else in the race." Gore says such things with remarkable dispassion, as if he were explaining that the Senate needs 60 votes to close off debate or that greenhouse gas emissions run higher in industrial states. Indeed, it is such charmlessness that has led Gore to conclude, as he told Time magazine, "I don't consider myself a natural politician."

That's ironic considering every Gore biographer and observer confirms that he was raised from childhood to be president. His parents assigned tasks to young Albert that were intended not to make him into a man, but to make him into a man that could be president.

"A president of the United States should be able to clear that field," his father might say. Young Albert was forced to plow a hillside with a hand plow, because such endeavors would fortify him with perseverance a politician with presidential ambitions needs.

The problem arises from the fact that Al Gore was nurtured against the grain of his nature. His father may have been a natural politician, but his son simply is not. During the campaign even Bill Clinton - in one of his exquisite moments of unhelpful frankness - explained that, if not for his parents, Gore would have been happier becoming an academic.

But, like a wolf raised as a house pet, or more accurately a housepet raised like a wolf, Gore has no reliable instincts for when to be vicious and unforgiving and when to be genteel and humble. His ambitions are not truly his own.

In 1988, when contemplating his first run for the presidency, Gore commented, "Daddy really wants me to do this." Before a presidential debate that year, Gore's mother handed him an encouraging note, "Relax, Smile, Attack." These are three things a natural politician doesn't need his mother to tell him.

Many of the more noble qualities the Gore parents endeavored to imprint on their son are highly valued in farming or athletics. But, in politics, robotic determination is, at best, a mixed blessing.

When pure ruthless doggedness is imprinted on a man with no feel for the profession, it is an invitation to a bunker mentality and a willingness to pay any price for your agenda. This may reflect why close to 60 percent of Americans supported a Bush presidency by the end of this legal struggle.

Indeed, Gore was anything but oblivious to the havoc he caused. According to every report, he was its chief architect, issuing orders to even minor lawyers and encouraging remorseless assaults from surrogates.

Gore impressed everyone who talked to him with his comprehensive knowledge of the nitty-gritty of Florida election law. And he was the only member of his team not to get discouraged throughout the legal ordeal, according to reports from The Washington Post and elsewhere. He was merely clearing the field once again.

To some, this tendency was foretold in much of Gore's slash-and-burn rhetoric during the campaign. Regardless, we will never know whether Gore might have won if there were no margin of error in this presidential election. But we have a much better sense of the president he might have been.

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