Al Gore wasn't always like this, of course. The thing is, corruption corrupts. Clinton lied to the public, lied under oath, and then (worst of all) sent high government officials out to persuade the public that perjury isn't a serious crime. When party leaders rallied to his defense, they transformed Clintonism from the personal code of one man into the governing philosophy of the Democratic Party. At least, Al Gore's Democratic Party.
I wonder if he ever leans back on the late-night plane and lets his mind wander on what might have been. What if the Democrats had stood up for truth and decency? What if, more in sorrow than in anger, as the evidence of perjury and obstruction of justice mounted, Al Gore and other leaders had gone to the president and told him, quietly, but firmly, for all the good he had done, some conduct just could not be excused?
Al Gore would be flying Air Force One today. Al Gore would be the incumbent, alpha leader of this roaring economy. He'd still have his attractive policies, which he could run with instead of trying to hide behind. Character could matter. He'd have clean hands, a clean slate and a clean conscience.
Instead I imagine Al Gore, muttering late at night amidst the sleeping reporters, "Must it be, Spirit!?" (which is how Harry Stein describes his own nightmare vision in "How I Accidentally Joined the Vast Right-Wing Conspiracy"). "Am I doomed to forever look upon perjury and gross amorality and yet see nothing? Am I so besotted with my own goodness that indecency need only be on my side and it will be defended?"
Goodbye, Al. Win or lose, we hardly knew ye.
Maggie Gallagher is a nationally syndicated columnist, a leading voice in the new marriage movement and co-author of The Case for Marriage: Why Married People Are Happier, Healthier, and Better Off Financially.