Entry from August 5, 2002

When Richard Nixon lost to Pat Brown in the California gubernatorial race of 1962 and subsequently staged his petulant, “you-won’t-have-Nixon-to-kick-around-anymore,” press conference, President Kennedy was reported to have observed that: “Nixon went out like he came in: no class.” Maybe there’s something about losing the presidency by a whisker after you have been “only a heartbeat away” from it for eight years — and then hearing your supporters whisper in your ear that you were robbed by an unscrupulous opponent — that produces the effect of an auto-classectomy on a man. At any rate, Al Gore, like Nixon before him, has forgotten the graciousness with which he first conceded defeat and is now looking more than ever like the “Sore Loserman” of the immediate post-election period.

Writing on the op ed page of the New York Times — that bulletin board for the tiny clique of élite liberals who dominate the Democratic Party — Gore has firmly identified his victorious opponent, George W. Bush, with one of two historic American parties — “those who believed they were entitled to govern because of their station in life”— and himself with the other — “those who believed that the people were sovereign.” Now, leaving aside the disingenuousness and the tendentiousness of this distinction, and especially leaving aside the complete lack of any evidence for identifying Bush with a hated but long-vanished aristocracy that would not equally apply to himself, there is a subtext to this argument. It is this: “I really won! After all, ‘the people’ chose me, didn’t they? Bush only won in the Electoral College, that relic of aristocratic suspicion of the popular will.”

It might be an argument worth listening to from anybody but Gore, but from him it is inevitably going to sound like special pleading — to say nothing of sour grapes. He knows this himself at some level, and is ashamed of it, which is why he takes the trouble to disguise it as an argument about Enron and not the Electoral College at all. Once again, out comes all the old claptrap about “a new generation of special interests, power brokers who would want nothing better than a pliant president who would bend public policy to suit their purposes and profits.” As if the Democrats’ interests were not special and their power brokers all pure and virginal in their unwavering desire for nothing but the public good! Perhaps it should not be to the discredit of a party politician that he should wish to think so well of his own faction, but to say that this kind of argument is “not partisan,” as the former vice-president goes on to do, is so breathtakingly obvious in its falsehood as to suggest some kind of brain malfunction.

Is he stupid or has he just grown so used to the sound of his own spin that he mistakes it for what he really believes? Perhaps it is a little of both. But oh how one wishes one did not have to decide the matter in the case of a man who may yet become one’s president! Though it may not always have been observed, there was a reason for the gentlemanly tradition by which losing presidential candidates were expected not to attempt to revive their campaigns in the aftermath of their defeat — as there is for most traditions. There may be much for which the winner deserves to be criticized, but his defeated opponent is the last man to do it if he has as much modesty and decency as would choke a flea — at least not until another campaign should be recognized as having begun. It is not surprising to find Gore a devotee of what political scientists are calling “the permanent campaign,” but his using this as an excuse to air before the public his bitterness and self-pity over losing is one more indication, if another were needed, that the good old Electoral College as decreed by our beloved Founders, did its job well.

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