What a dilemma for Al Gore. He should be well ahead of George W. Bush by now. He should be on cruise control, barreling down the interstate toward an electoral inevitability. He should have won all three debates by knockout or unanimous decision, exercising his famous command of fact and argument. He should be the unarguable favorite in this race--the Expected One. Instead...
And so the dilemma on which Gore chews--over which, I suspect, he gnashes his teeth--is this: whether to go to the Oval Office and say, "Mr. President, I need help. Unless you come out and start campaigning for me--now!--I am going to lose this election. And if I lose, there goes the vindication of the Clinton years. There goes the legacy."
Gore doesn't want to do it. His face darkens at the thought. The subject of Clinton came up in an interview on Regis Philbin's show last week, and Gore waved it away. Running for President, he said, "is something you really have to do on your own." Gore rarely mentions the President when campaigning. When Gore returned to the White House the other day for briefings on the Middle East, it was the first time he had been in the building since May 22. Clinton, hurt and puzzled, by all reports, sits and waits for Gore's call. The President brims with ideas, and with professional frustration at the sight of Gore fouling up an exercise that to Clinton is effortless second nature.
How humiliating for the former cigar-store Indian. Gore told the convention, "I stand here as my own man." He turned himself into an explosion of manic animation--pinwheeling and high-fiving across the American landscape, caring and sharing like nobody's business, the alpha male of millennial dream, his face a kaleidoscope of exuberance. And it hasn't worked. After all that profligate expenditure of self, he remains locked in a too-close-to-call race against a nice enough fellow from Texas and Yale whose mind, even in the midst of a presidential debate, seems to behave like a marathon runner at the 24-mile mark--struggling, panting for coherence.
What should Gore do? There must be fierce injured pride at work in his calculations--that, and a sensible fear that bringing Clinton in would stir up the old muck. Gore was more profoundly offended by the Lewinsky business than anyone would have thought that day in December 1998 when, at the defiant Rose Garden rally, he succumbed to his exaggeration addiction once again and declared Clinton to be one of the greatest American Presidents.