Gore Can't Heal the Hurt
By Richard Cohen
Friday , November 24, 2000 ;
I voted for Al Gore. I did so
because I have known him since he was a congressman from Tennessee. I admire
his intellect, his seriousness of purpose, his capacity for hard work and
study, his political values, his experience and his knowledge. That being
said, I now think that under current circumstances he would not be the
right man for the presidency. If I could, I would withdraw my vote. In
the terminology of the moment, put me down as a hanging chad.
I still think precisely as I
have about Gore. But those "current circumstances" I just mentioned change
everything. Given the present bitterness, given the angry irresponsible
charges being hurled by both camps, the nation will be in dire need of
a conciliator, a likable guy who will make things better and not worse.
That man is not Al Gore. That man is George W. Bush.
Bush has incessantly proclaimed
himself as that sort of guy--"a uniter, not a divider." The tendency is
to dismiss that sort of chest-thumping as campaign nonsense, but in Bush's
case it appears to be true. After all, the Bush boomlet began among his
fellow Republican governors, each of whom probably thought the next president
should be none other than himself.
So it says something about Bush
that the governors were able to coalesce around him. Some of these governors
knew Bush quite well, some hardly at all, but the fact remains that they
all seemed to genuinely like the guy and respected his leadership abilities.
You hear the same sort of thing
from people who worked with Bush in private enterprise. I talked with one
of them once, a Democrat who disagreed with Bush on many issues. Yet he,
too, praised Bush's leadership abilities, his talent for bringing order
out of chaos and for reaching some sort of consensus. That man's testimony
impressed me. His disagreements with Bush were real, his admiration for
Gore, on the other hand, has
little of those abilities. His own party is sore at him for taking the
one-two punch of peace and prosperity and running a race that is still
not concluded. His performance was as erratic as his uniform-of-the-day:
earth tones on Tuesday, business suit on Wednesday. The country sensed
that either he did not know himself, or what he did know the country would
Gore is hardly a political natural.
He appears stiff, robotic, insincere even when he is not, and paradoxically
unable to mask his ambition. He is the intimate of few people, almost no
one's good buddy, and not comfortable--or is it just plain not good?--on
television. But TV is as essential to the modern presidency as a white
horse was to monarchs of old.
Could Al Gore rally the nation?
Maybe. Could he go over the heads of Congress and get the country behind
him? Maybe. I think, though, that Bush would be better at those things--and
better, too, at restraining GOP Dobermans like Reps. Tom DeLay and J.C.
Watts Jr. At the same time, it's not likely that a President Bush would
be able to appoint Supreme Court justices ideologically similar to those
he says he admires, Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas. Simply put, he
ain't got the votes.
John F. Kennedy won by a hair
and under questionable circumstances, and yet his presidency was never
considered illegitimate. Within a relatively short time, his approval rating
hit an astounding 83 percent. But Kennedy was a man of manifest political
talents, not to mention charisma. Bush is no Kennedy on a lot of levels--particularly
his lack of intellectual curiosity--but Gore is almost Kennedy's antithesis.
No one has ever applied the word "grace" to him.
I realize that one-term presidents
can become two-term presidents, so it is not just the next year that matters.
I realize, too, that Bush and Gore have real differences in their approach
to government--differences that matter greatly to many people.
But what matters at the moment
is the moment itself--a mere tick of the historic clock that could, if
things continue, just stop it dead where it is. History does not guarantee
that things will be as they have been. The first and most daunting task
of the next president is not a tax bill or a Social Security plan but--as
it was when Jerry Ford succeeded Richard Nixon--the healing of the country.
I voted for Gore because he was the better man for the job. I can't help
thinking that he no longer is.
© 2000 The Washington Post