Column: If Gore wants respect, he's holding a losing hand

I wonder if Vice President Al Gore has ever heard the old Kenny Rogers tune, "Ya gotta know when to hold 'em, and know when to fold 'em." Like most Americans I believe it's time for the vice president to fold 'em, graciously conceding the presidential election to Texas Gov. George W. Bush and living on to fight another day.

Neither candidate has covered himself with glory since the election on Nov. 7 as they've battled in state and federal courts and in the court of public opinion. Indeed, last week's prime-time television was all Al Gore all the time, replete with phony smiles and forced chuckles. Which only exacerbated his PR problem: the more people see and hear him, the less they like him.

Gore's former Senate colleague, Nevada Democrat Richard Bryan, discussed the problem in a newspaper interview last week. "Gore is not a likeable personality although he is a man of considerable substance," Bryan told the Reno Gazette-Journal, adding that Gore reminded him of the kid who tells his teacher that the class hasn't been assigned homework for the Christmas break. Ouch! Bryan, who is retiring from the Senate next month, can say whatever he wants unlike fellow Nevada Democrat Harry Reid, who must toe the party line as Minority Leader Tom Daschle's chief deputy.

No matter what happens in the courts, Bush is already certified as the winner in Florida and the Republican-controlled State Legislature will probably appoint its own slate of electors next week in advance of a Dec. 12 deadline. In accordance with Section One, Article Two of the U.S. Constitution, "Each state shall appoint, in such manner as the Legislature thereof may direct, a number of electors equal to the whole number of Senators and Representatives to which the state may be entitled in Congress." Clear enough? Thus, Florida's 25 electors will put Governor Bush over the top in the Electoral College on Dec. 18, giving him 271 electoral votes and the presidency.

So why does Gore continue to alienate the American public with his serial legal challenges to Florida's certified election results? His endless mantra about "counting all the votes" rings hollow when we remember that it was Gore's allies who attempted to disenfranchise thousands of Florida's military and diplomatic absentee voters who are serving abroad.

What the vice president really wants to do is to count all those so-called dimpled chads in heavily democratic counties as votes for him. But that's not going to happen because time will run out on Gore's lawyers before the Dec. 12 Electoral College deadline.

Unfortunately, we may never know who really won Florida. A UC Berkeley statistics professor told the Knight-Ridder News Service that if every Floridian who voted for either Bush or Gore had simply flipped a coin, there is an 82 percent chance that the winner's margin of victory would have been greater than the current 537 votes. That's how close it was.

In the meantime, Gore's fellow Democrats are growing increasingly restless, recognizing that the American people want this election to be over. As we were told ad nauseum during the Clinton impeachment proceedings, let's put this unpleasantness behind us and move on.

Washington Post columnist Richard Cohen, a strong Gore supporter, spoke for many Democrats last week when he questioned the vice president's single-minded pursuit of the presidency. "Given the present bitterness, given the angry and irresponsible charges being hurled by both camps, the nation will be in dire need of a conciliator, a likeable guy who will make things better, not worse," he wrote. "That man is not Al Gore. That man is George W. Bush."

"I voted for Gore because he was the better man for the job," Cohen concluded. "I can't help thinking that he no longer is." Conservative columnists were much less generous.

"There is one thing you can say about the Clinton-Gore crowd," wrote Cohen's Washington Post colleague Michael Kelly. "With them, there is always some fresh hell and there never is a bottom.... With these men of fathomless selfishness, there is always more damage to be done.... This would have been over long ago except that Al Gore refused to accept the results of a fair and full recount that confirmed his loss."

Kelly said Gore's Monday night address to the nation "ranks with Nixon's Checkers apology as the most revolting speech in (American) political history . . ."

Respected political pundit George Will wrote that Gore's challenge to the Florida election results is based on a "pernicious premise - that casting a ballot is a task so challenging for many voters that it cannot be completed without the intervention of lawyers ..." Will said "the best vote count, in terms of actual and perceived integrity, is almost always the one done on Election Night." And so it is.

Having worked the last three elections here in Carson City, with those allegedly confusing punchcard ballots, I don't think voting is that difficult. As I've mentioned we had exactly four spoiled ballots among the 400 cast in my two precincts, and those problems were resolved on the spot. Can it be that Nevada voters are that much smarter than their Florida counterparts? I seriously doubt it.

So if Vice President Gore really wants to defend democracy, as he has reiterated so often during the past three weeks, he'll admit that he lost an exceedingly close election to Gov. Bush and offer his assistance in a bipartisan transition process. Now that would earn Gore the public approval and respect that he so desperately seeks.

Guy W. Farmer, a semi-retired journalist and former U.S. diplomat, resides in Carson City.


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