Charles Krauthammer

WASHINGTON -- Al Gore's dramatic endorsement of Howard Dean catapults Dean to prohibitive favorite because, according to conventional wisdom, it connects the outsider campaign to the ultimate insider. The insurgency gains access to the traditional centers of party power -- the unions, ethnic constituencies and big donors close to Gore.

This is all very true. But the special power of this endorsement is less structural than symbolic. The story of this campaign is the energy and anger of the Democratic base. It is the reason an unknown and undistinguished former governor of Vermont is now the front-runner. He bottled the anger.

The anger appears odd, given that George W. Bush is fairly mild-mannered. He is no Richard Nixon. Democrats did not hate him in 2000. Yet many hate him now because of 2000, because they believe his entire presidency to be illegitimate.

The Democratic base is agitated as in few other elections because of a burning belief that Bush stole the presidency. Then along comes Gore, chief witness to and, indeed, victim of the crime -- Dean introduced him at the Harlem endorsement ceremony as the ``elected president of the United States'' -- and declares that Dean is the one to carry the fight to depose Bush and vindicate the betrayal of 2000.

Gore's moral authority as the man who wuz robbed makes his endorsement unique. It is in fact an anointment. And who better to anoint than Dean, the man who has given expression to precisely the anger born of Gore's victimization.

From Gore's point of view, it is also a political masterstroke. After all, where was he? He was last seen in a hot tub on ``Saturday Night Live.'' He has since popped in and out of popular consciousness with the occasional speech, but he did not seem very content to spend his life as a visiting professor of journalism somewhere. The Dean endorsement, dramatic and unexpected, makes him a player again. A big player.

If he had waited a couple of months until Dean had already gathered irresistible momentum by winning the early primaries, it would have meant little. But by endorsing before the first vote is cast and thus making Dean the presumptive nominee, Gore becomes kingmaker.

It is good to be king. It is almost as good to be kingmaker. Gore makes himself consigliere, elder statesman, the James Baker of the Dean administration. And, if he wants it (Baker did), Gore just got himself the second-best job in America, secretary of state.

Charles Krauthammer

Charles Krauthammer is a 1987 Pulitzer Prize winner, 1984 National Magazine Award winner, and a columnist for The Washington Post since 1985.

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