Al Gore switched from ferocious to gracious so abruptly that it was enough to cause viewers emotional whiplash. Is a man capable of offering such an uplifting concession the same person who dragged the nation through 37 days of turmoil, uncertainty, increased racial tension and partisan enmity purely for his own ambition's sake? Even in the hours immediately preceding his graceful exit, Gore was sending quite different signals. His aides publicly rebuked Democratic National Committee Chief Ed Rendell for calling upon Gore to concede following the Supreme Court's decision Tuesday night. And even after it was announced that the vice president wished to address the nation at 9 p.m. on Wednesday, hints were dropped that Gore would simply "withdraw" but not concede.
As it was, Gore gave the finest speech of his life, prompting thoughts of Shakespeare's words, long associated with the beheaded king of England, Charles I: "Nothing in his life became him like the leaving it." As much can be said of Al Gore's campaign.
But though Gore found it within himself to sail away from this mess majestically, one superb eight-minute speech cannot erase the damage his scorched earth tactics leave in their wake.
Yes, the nation will now give President-elect Bush a chance to lead, but the suspicion and rancor will not melt away so easily. Millions of Democrats now believe that an "activist" United States Supreme Court halted a recount that might have given the election to Al Gore in order to hand the presidency to George Bush.
In fact, it was only the intervention of the Florida Supreme Court that permitted the election result to remain in limbo for so long. Every other court in Florida (including several judges who were Democrats) had ruled against Gore. The U.S. Supreme Court attempted to reprove Florida's Supremes gently the first time. But when four members of that court steamrolled ahead with their wholesale revision of Florida's election code anyway, the U.S. Supreme Court (7-2) was left with little choice but to reverse a plainly unconstitutional intervention.
Liberals have charged conservatives with hypocrisy for welcoming the Supreme Court's participation in this controversy, but the charge is silly. The Florida Court should have demonstrated to everyone's satisfaction what conservatives mean by "activist" judges. They rewrote the Florida election code not once but twice to favor Al Gore. For the Supreme Court to let that stand would have been the real triumph of judicial activism. The Supreme Court merely reestablished the rule of law.
The most harmful effect of Gore's post-election effort will be the added cynicism and despair in the black community. Assisted by the Rev. Jesse Jackson, the Rev. Joseph Lowry, and others, Democrats purposely and falsely incited black voters to believe that they had been "disenfranchised" by the denial of a hand recount. They falsely suggested that thousands of votes were never counted, while also implying that a racist conspiracy was at work.
The truth, of course, is that this was a race between two rich, white guys -- one of whom wanted it so badly that he was willing to do almost anything to win (by his own admission). And since a Democrat ace in the hole is black antipathy toward Republicans, they played that particular card to the hilt.
In reality, all of the
ballots were counted -- and not just once but twice, as the law required. The machines counted the ballots of black voters in exactly the same way as the ballots of every other group -- and as James Baker tirelessly pointed out; the great thing about machines is that they are neither Democrats nor Republicans. Not every ballot contained a vote, thus the new term "undervote." But as the U.S. Supreme Court found, a bunch of partisans poring over ballots with magnifying glasses and then voting, two out of three, about whom the voter intended to select, is not "counting." For his own selfish reason, Gore wanted only the "undervote" in heavily Democratic districts "hand-counted," yet he dressed it up in civil rights talk and soon had black Americans convinced that somehow this was about disrespecting black voters. That kind of cynical use of people's sensitivities is unconscionable, and it will take a lot more than one gracious speech to forgive.