Wednesday, January 17, 2001

During his concession speech, Al Gore promised to “spend time in Tennessee and mend some fences literally and figuratively.” However, this seems to have been only one more illusion. Mr. Gore’s true home as the people of Tennessee showed clearly during the election when they cast their votes for George W. Bush is within the Beltway. According to a Saturday front page story in this newspaper, “The Gores have quietly been moving their belongings” into their house in Arlington, Va.

Thanks to Mr. Gore’s move, and to Mr. and Mrs. Clinton’s purchase of a $2.85 million house not far from the Naval Observatory, this will mark the first time anyone can remember that both the former president and vice president have decided not to return to their home states. While Hillary Rodham Clinton’s Senate job makes it necessary for the Clintons to have some kind of residence here, they are no more New Yorkers than the Gores are Tennesseeans.

Presidents have a proud history of leaving the circles of power once their terms have expired, following the example of George Washington. Thomas Jefferson retired to Monticello; Andrew Jackson returned to Tennessee; Harry Truman went back to Missouri and Jimmy Carter left for Plains, Ga.

The practice is not a mere formality it serves as a symbol of the deliberate abdication of power. It should come as no surprise then that Mr. Clinton and Mr. Gore, who have so often substituted symbolism for substance, are doing so again. They are symbolically leaving the Oval Office, only to continue their incessant campaign down the street.

Judging by his recent comments, Mr. Clinton seems determined to whitewash his legacy as he continues to delegitimize his successor. Mr. Gore will once again attempt to establish himself in the Oval Office, though his Tennessee foundations have all but washed away. Even if Washington is Mr. Gore’s true home, he should continue his campaign outside of the spotlight and away from the Beltway. Instant communication and the almost unlimited availability of travel would negate any difficulty he would have in running for president, again, from Nashville.

As for Mr. Clinton, it is time for him to quench his pursuit of power. He has enjoyed two terms in the White House, even if the rest of us can hardly be said to have enjoyed his time there. Mr. Clinton has inflicted enough damage on this nation, in terms of prestige abroad and the standard of public discourse at home.

It is time for both Mr. Gore, the “fence-mender” and Mr. Clinton, the “bridge-builder” to leave the political scene. They will find soon enough that the spotlight in Washington has moved to a new occupant in the White House. Chances are, once that reality sets in, neither of them will wish to stick around much. “Has-beens” in Washington are a dime a dozen and by this Saturday we will just have two more.

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