What the Loser Should Do
He'll be back with a vengeance in 2004. Here's how he should get in shape
What should the loser do? First, be elaborately gracious--for 15
or 20 minutes, anyway. Call for national unity. Congratulate the
jerk who beat you. Walk away jauntily, as if you'd won. In a
sense, you did. No talk about stolen elections. No "I was
robbed!" Don't look back. Americans are sick of the subject
anyway, and have drawn their own conclusions.
Get to work on 2004. Richard Nixon, having lost to John Kennedy
in 1960 by a margin of problematic votes, worked for eight years
in the Republican wilderness, speaking to every Rotary and
Kiwanis that would have him. But Nixon had more ground to make
up. He was defeated in the California race for Governor in 1962;
an aura of redoubled loser clung to him like 5 o'clock shadow.
It was early 1968 before he looked like a winner again.
The loser this time starts with a constituency of exactly 50% of
America--give or take a precinct. The entire American yin has been
radicalized against the whole American yang. The memory of the
2000 postelection chadfest will revive an angry energy in 2004,
which will produce the biggest voter turnout in history.
The winner this time will run for re-election in 2004. Should the
loser fear he won't be renominated for that race? George Bush is
probably safe with the Republicans. Al Gore has the Hillary
problem, which four years hence may be powerful.
There is a certain hilarious motif of dynasties at work. Henry
Adams said he grew up thinking every respectable American family
included at least one President. His had two--John Adams and John
Quincy Adams. The Bushes would like to make it two. The Clintons
would like to make it two in the same generation.
The man who loses in 2000 must spend the next four years
repairing his greatest weakness. The yammering classes have
decided that Gore's problem is a weird, deficient personality,
and Bush's is a dull, incurious brain. I have sometimes suspected
the reverse: that Gore is a nicer guy than imagined but not as
smart as he would like everyone to think; and that Bush is
smarter, but a lot less nice, than he seems. The two men even
out, in some irritating way.
Gore's ruthless ambition impairs his judgment. If he became
President, and thus fulfilled his ambition, would his judgment
improve? The nation must hope so. On the other hand, if Gore were
to lose, would the loss mellow his ambition and deepen his
character? Would he stop running up and down rope lines like an
afternoon game-show host?
If he loses, Gore should disconnect himself completely from
power for a couple of years--the power that addles his judgment
and scrambles his more decent instruments. He should move far
from Washington (not to Tennessee) and find a job among real
people. He should take a vow of political silence. He should
grow a beard, discard his ego and, for two years, listen to
people. He should learn to walk like a normal human being.
If Bush loses, he might devote time to standing on the beach at
Padre Island with pebbles in his mouth, orating at the gulls. He
certainly should devote months to reading books on history,
foreign policy, science, technology and economics. He should
call in tutors.
The truth is that each of these candidates would be a better man
if he lost the 2000 election. Life has been too kind to these
princes. Both would profit from the loss. The nation would be
better served. Gore and Bush could consider 2000 a dress
rehearsal. They could learn from their mistakes and work to
repair their inadequacies.
It will not happen. One of them is going to have to learn to be
adequate while actually living in the White House.