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Jewish World Review Feb. 12, 2001 / 19 Shevat, 5761

Diana West

Diana West
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If only ... -- "THEY were two political partners who had barely spoken for a year, but a few days after Al Gore conceded the 2000 election, he and Bill Clinton were finally talking face to face." So begins a juicy little chronicle by the Washington Post's John F. Harris about a private "showdown session" called by Gore to hash out why he, Gore, having presided over eight years of peace and prosperity under him, the Big He, did not win the White House.

There are no direct quotations from the two men in this newspaper account.

Indeed, the writer relied entirely on unnamed sources "close" to them both. What pops out, though, is a vivid, almost 3-D picture of two disgruntled rivals who blame each other for losing the presidency - in, as Harris writes, "uncommonly blunt language." While there are no reports that paperweights or staplers were put to the test of the laws of gravity during the exchange, you might say that the recriminations flew.

"You and your stupid sex scandals," said A l- or words to that effect.

"You and your not remembering, 'It's the economy, stupid,' Stupid!" said Bill - or words to that effect. While this confrontation might not make it as Greek tragedy, it packs a wallop despite the more burlesque trappings of the scene - from the humidor that had to be on the desk, to the ghost-of-"is-is"- past that had to be haunting the room. In other words, even though this face-off between Bill and Al is less "Henry IV" than "Bubba Meets Gore-zilla," it offers some keenly telling insights.

It all goes back to Bill Clinton's historic impeachment - and Al Gore's historic defense of the impeached president. Remember that hang-tough Democratic pep rally on Impeachment Day? Administration luminaries along with the Democratic Party leadership (all of whom had been lied to by Clinton) gathered on the White House lawn to listen to Gore praise Clinton as "one of our greatest presidents." That December day in 1998 - not the last Democratic Convention, not Election Day, and not the night of his concession speech - was the turning point in Gore's political life.

Imagine that instead of having agreed to save Clinton's political life, Gore had quietly signaled his disappointment. Imagine that his disappointment had emboldened and ultimately inspired party elders to go, as senior Republicans once did, to the disgraced president and press for his resignation. These are big "ifs," sure. But it's by no means an exercise in science fiction to consider the possibility that Gore might have been able to run for president in 2000 as the bona fide incumbent who, Excelsior-style, had himself restored "honor and integrity" to the Oval Office while presiding over a high-flying Dow. Almost certainly he would have won.

Instead, a Republican president is preparing to see a Reaganesque tax cut through a Republican Congress, Gore is teaching a journalism class - initially off the record (go figure) - and Clinton is feeling the blistering heat of a spate of post-presidential scandals that have rankled his most devoted supporters. Little wonder the word is that Team Clinton and Team Gore have become "estranged." While none of this is a bad thing for those who support the Republican Party, it seems as if the nation as a whole remains distracted by the real-life morality play - still unresolved - that was the Clinton-Gore years.

The fact is, justice was never served, not really. Successfully escaping indictment is no badge of honor to make a country proud. Returning $28,000 in White House knickknacks doesn't instantly placate concerns over what appears to have been a post-presidential bout of kleptomania. Copping a last-minute plea with the independent counsel doesn't atone for the serial indignities Bill Clinton inflicted on the body politic.

The failure to reach what might be described as a catharsis concerning the Clintons has left a strange, restless energy in their wake. It probably explains the seemingly pent-up furor that the Clintons' most loyal allies have unleashed upon the practically hapless couple during these past weeks of Bookgate, Pardongate, Sofagate and Officegate. While the good ol' vast-right-wing-conspiracy dutifully saddled up for one more round-up on the Clinton front (or two, or three - but who's counting?), the anything-goes-left went ballistic for the first time, as if shaking down pals for a few pricey place-settings is a more serious threat to the nation' s founding principles than perjury and obstruction of justice. That's a skewed perspective for you - and it's what you get when you decide to wait too long, as Al Gore did, to get a few things off your chest.

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© 2001, Diana West