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Jewish World Review Dec. 12, 2000 / 15 Kislev, 5761

Roger Simon

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About that concession speech, Mr. Gore -- AL GORE'S CONCESSION SPEECH has been sitting on a floppy disk since Election Night, when the networks called Florida and the race for George Bush.

Gore's staff had written a victory speech and a concession speech, and that night they began putting the final touches on the concession, printing out a copy for Gore to study and loading it on a teleprompter so Gore could read it at the War Memorial in Nashville, Tenn.

He never gave that speech, of course. The networks took Florida away from Bush, and the battle has gone on ever since.

But the concession speech has sat on electronic hold until a few days ago, when the aides started touching it up again.

They decided to use not a defeat as their model, but a victory: Thomas Jefferson's first victory in 1800.

Though it would go down in history as the first passing of power from one party to another in America -- George Washington and John Adams had been Federalists and Jefferson was a Democratic-Republican -- the election of 1800 was a mess.

After a bitter contest, filled with personal invective that would shock citizens of today, Adams was defeated by Jefferson.

But Jefferson got the same number of electoral votes as his own running mate, Aaron Burr -- the 12th Amendment was passed four years later to prevent this from happening again -- throwing the election into the House of Representatives where it took 36 grueling ballots for Jefferson to emerge victorious.

Jefferson faced the task of uniting a badly divided nation. And in the first inaugural address to be delivered in Washington, D.C., Jefferson used the rhetorical flourish "Let us" to set the tone: "Let us then, fellow citizens, unite with one heart and one mind; let us restore to social intercourse that harmony and affection without which liberty and even life itself are but dreary things."

Noting that political intolerance was as "despotic, as wicked, and as capable of as bitter and bloody persecutions" as religious intolerance, Jefferson uttered the famous phrase: "We are all Republicans; we are all Federalists."

On "60 Minutes" a few weeks ago, Gore had said, "But at the end of the day, whichever one of us wins, the other one should step forward and help to rally the country towards unity."

Then he ended with a joke. When Lesley Stahl asked him, "Are you in deep denial?" he laughed and said, "No, no. I deny that."

He had gone to church that day at the Mount Vernon Baptist Church in Arlington, Va., where he had not attended a regular Sunday worship service since the Monica Lewinsky scandal.

"I know back when Bill Clinton was in all that trouble, he started coming more regularly," the Rev. Martha Phillips said. "It seems like when he's in crisis, he turns to us."

Gore has known defeat was always possible. "He's got his mind around losing," one aide said. "After all, he did it once before."

And, indeed, on Nov. 7, Gore had phoned Bush and conceded after the TV networks had announced that Bush had won Florida. Not long after, he called back to say Florida was still in play and he was recanting.

Gore's campaign got a second wind Friday when the Florida Supreme Court ruled that the counting of ballots in Florida should resume, but after that order was stayed by the U.S. Supreme Court Saturday, gloom settled over the Gore camp again.

Gore does not look upon himself as defeated -- he won the popular vote by around 300,000 votes, and believes that a majority of Florida voters cast their votes for him.

So if he doesn't make it to the Oval Office, he intends to look upon himself as the candidate who did not become president, not the candidate who lost.

It may be a technical point, but important to his own sense of pride, a pride he feels in having come back from a 17-point deficit to battle to a popular vote victory.

For Joe Lieberman the aftermath will be easier: He will still be a senator, still in the thick of things in an equally divided Senate.

Gore, at 52, will have to find something to do if he loses.

While some think he might want to become president of Harvard University -- Dwight Eisenhower was president of Columbia University before becoming president of the United States -- others think the job might be too politically confining, especially if Gore wanted to actively travel and work for the election of a Democratic Congress in 2002. Some staff members think he might start a think-tank or work with environmental groups.

If Bush wins, he will be the first president in 112 years to gain the Oval Office while losing the popular vote. He faces a divided Congress and a divided nation, and it promises to be a rough four years.

Gore's people are already talking about 2004. Though some expect a crowded field, they also dream about Gore and Lieberman running in the primaries as a ticket.

"And by 2004 there will be no shadow of Bill Clinton hanging over Gore," one aide noted. "That will be a big plus."

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© 2000, Creators Syndicate