- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 17, 2002

When Rip Van Winkle wandered back to civilization after his 20-year snooze, he discovered that not only had he changed, having become an old man with a long, white beard, but the world around him had changed, too. His wife was dead, his daughter was a mother, and the village inn once named for King George III was now called after President George Washington. Rip could tell that everything was different.

The same, alas, may not be said for Al Gore. Having wandered off the public stage after the 2000 election, having even grown (and shaved) a beard, Mr. Gore has returned, Rip-like, to the arena, addressing the Florida Democratic Convention last weekend. But unlike tattered, old Rip, the former vice president seems oddly oblivious to the new era that began last year sometime, say, around September 11.

It's not that Mr. Gore didn't mention the war on terrorism that has reordered not only the Bush presidency, but the lives of all Americans. Indeed, the former vice president flagged his support for the administration's war efforts. But he did so mainly to give himself a rhetorical boost in urging fellow Democrats to resist "right-wing" efforts to exploit the war to further the "Republicans' radical agenda."

What followed was what you might call vintage (read: old) Gore. Uncorked, Mr. Gore sermonized about the "little guys" who lose out to rich Republicans; the "average citizens" who get "the door slammed in their face" and the "polluters" who receive "the welcome mat." America's economy is "suffering unnecessarily," he said. American values are "being trampled." He even invoked the hallowed "lock box." Declaring that Republicans have "turned the clock back on progress," he added, "I'll tell you it's a good thing they love the past so much because pretty soon, they're going to be history." (We're hoping he didn't have to work too hard on that last bit.)

And that was the high-brow part. "They're the party of Fantasy Land; we're the party of Tomorrow Land," he continued, slipping easily into the rhetorical cadences of Mickey Mouse. "We're the party of Main Street U.S.A.; they're the party of Pirates of Enron." Mr. Gore, as the New York Times rather breathlessly put it, "even dared to do what many Democrats had said he was afraid of doing in the 2000 campaign: embrace President Bill Clinton. 'I think Bill Clinton and I did a damn fine job,' Mr. Gore said, practically shouting.' "

We'd call it hollering. We'd also call it wishful thinking a political dream that didn't come true for a man who hasn't woken up to the new day. As that old Clinton-Gore campaign ditty put it, "Yesterday's gone." Not even a clean shave can bring it back.

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