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Jewish World Review August 24, 2000 / 23 Menachem-Av, 5760

Bob Greene

Bob Greene
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Consumer Reports

Four men running -- Why do we have to throw out two? -- DURING MOST presidential election years I wait until late in the campaign to make this suggestion, but now seems like an appropriate time to bring it up.

From this week until November, Al Gore and Joseph Lieberman on one side, and George W. Bush and Dick Cheney on the other, will be doing everything they can to persuade Americans that they are the best choice to lead the country for the next four years. And both tickets, in terms of impressive numbers, will succeed.

That is because, on Election Day, tens of millions of people are almost certain to vote for Bush-Cheney, and tens of millions are almost certain to vote for Gore-Lieberman. That many Americans -- on each side -- will put their hopes and beliefs in each ticket. The people who vote for Gore-Lieberman, and the people who vote for Bush-Cheney, will have bought into what the candidates have told them --will have become convinced that the men on the ticket they choose have the ideas, the vision, the patriotism, the seriousness of purpose, to help our country continue in an exemplary way on its course through history.

And what will happen?

Come the morning after Election Day, two of those men will be tossed out like yesterday's garbage.

If Bush and Cheney win, Al Gore will have no future in public life. He will be looked upon as a relic of the Clinton years who couldn't pull his own weight with the voters; he will become less than a footnote to history. Joe Lieberman? An oddity, if he loses; Geraldine Ferraro 2000. He won't again be heard of on the national political scene -- these next few months will be it.

If the Gore-Lieberman ticket wins, though, Gore will be seen as a brilliant, vibrant member of a Democratic dynasty, and Lieberman will be seen as truly historic -- one of the great and inspiring political stories of all time. While Bush and Cheney will become, in public-service terms, dust --swept into a pan, discarded, suddenly not even a tiny part of the nation's life.

Why? That's the way things work -- the winners in a presidential race win everything, triumph completely. The losers walk away with nothing but their memories.

Which is where my proposal comes in.

We, as a nation, are being incredibly wasteful when we take candidates who have stirred the hopes of tens of millions, and find no way for those candidates to serve. Yes, Republicans are Republicans and Democrats are Democrats, and there are time-honored differences in the parties. But when a candidate wins a presidential election, he pledges to -- and is expected to --become the president of all the people.

Why not extend that spirit to the losers?

It's not as if the United States has far too many bright, serious people with the skill, love of country, plans to make that country better, with personal magnetism that draws in millions of enthusiastic's not that, in an increasingly sloppy, let-someone-else-do-it era, we have leaders to spare.

It is a precious thing when tens of millions of Americans put their trust in a candidate. We ought to be able to figure out some way to use the talents of the candidates even when they come up a few million votes short. It shouldn't be all or nothing -- we should have enough generosity of spirit at the highest levels of government, enough creativity, to avail ourselves of the abilities not only of the winners, but also of the losers.

Is Bob Dole a worthless man? Few would argue that he is -- and to President Clinton's credit, he has asked Dole to do more for America than most victorious presidential candidates request of their defeated opponents. Mostly, though, Dole in the four years since his loss to Clinton has been seen as an advertising pitchman, a spokesman for an impotency drug, and a performer on a cable comedy channel. There's something stupid about that -- on our part. There's something wasteful.

Four years from now, you would hate to see the talents of Al Gore and Joe Lieberman -- or of George W. Bush and Dick Cheney -- wasted like that. But that is what is likely to happen -- of four men who want to make America better, two will get to try, and two will be pushed aside.

You'd think we would be smarter than that. Politics notwithstanding, you'd think we could figure out a way to let all of them go to work for all of us. own.

JWR contributor Bob Greene is a novelist and columnist. Send your comments to him by clicking here.


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