About That Concession

To: Vice President Al Gore
From: Communications Staff, Gore-Lieberman 2000

Sir, we understand from a friend of Mrs. Gore who was overheard this morning talking on the phone with a cousin of Drew Schiff that you are going to drop out. If this is true, sir, we’re here to help.

Our thoughts:

First, you’re obviously right. You know the old saying, when riding a dead horse it’s best to dismount. This is over, but you’ll ride again.

Second, your speech tonight will have a lot to do with how people remember this whole fracas, and your role in it. So it’s important for history that you get it right, and it’s important to the American people, but it’s also important to you. It may dictate whether you have a future in politics.

Remember what happened after Richard Nixon made his bitter, crazy concession speech in California in 1962—”You won’t have Nixon to kick around anymore.” He was finished. Jack Kennedy watched it in the White House and shook his head. “No class,” he said. He was right. It took a war in Vietnam to get Nixon back into the game.

You’re in a great position. Focus on it. Just about exactly half the country voted for you and not Bush. You won a plurality of the popular vote; you may have won the whole election, no one will ever know. Probably a quarter of the electorate will always think Bush won on a technicality. So you’re not History’s Big Loser, you’re The Guy Who Came Within an Inch and Bowed Out With Class.

We know you’re feeling anger, and frustration, but please don’t second-guess yourself. Don’t listen to those advisers who are diehards; don’t let them sway you. They want you to stay in because there’s a 1% or 2% chance you can still win. And they wouldn’t mind seeing you spend your last personal capital on that 1% or 2%, because if lightning strikes they emerge as winners, and get more clients and billable hours. They’ve got an agenda. So do you, but it’s not theirs.

You must step down tonight and concede, fully. Do it gracefully and with a kind of height. Do it so well in fact that Americans across the whole country watch you and then turn to their wives and husbands and say, “Darlin’, I am wondering this moment if we’ve gotten ourselves the right man.”

The way to hurt George W. Bush is to save yourself, to be so graceful he looks puny. Then you can come roaring back in time.

So this is not a defeat. It’s a tactical retreat.

*   *   *

All right, tonight. A speech in prime time. We recommend that you speak, for the first time in history, live from the vice president’s office, just down the hall from the Oval, in the West Wing. Nice big desk, nice bookcase, nice pictures in the background. We’ll get a few more flags.

It should be a full and formal TelePrompTer address, no more than 15 minutes and preferably 12.

All nets and cable will obviously cover it live. Every eye in the country will be riveted on you. That’s probably never happened to a vice president before.

Be gracious. Don’t be afraid to show it hurts; hurt is endearing, especially from you.

Don’t mention that you “won the popular vote.” Everyone knows. The newscasters will come out of your address noting it for you. You’ll get credit for not saying it.

You’ll have to help Bush. He’s the next American president, and he begins his presidency in extraordinary circumstances. So you’ll have to help him by lauding him and asking your supporters to come together behind him. This is the patriotic thing to do. It also appears to be the patriotic thing. Again, you’ll get a lot of credit.

Keep in mind that nobody wants to beat you up tonight; they want to say nice things. So don’t argue your case anymore, don’t defend your actions. Others can do that for you. Tonight is for grace.

The world has to know that America is together, because the moment people think our country is divided beyond healing, the world becomes a more dangerous place. Emphasize the point:

To those leaders and members of other countries far away, I hope our peaceful resolution of this great disagreement has been as educational and even inspiring for you as it has been for us. But make no mistake. While Americans have different views and different philosophies, and while we have great disputes, too, we always ultimately walk down the same path. And we walk down it together. Always have, always will. We are united in our love of country, our commitment to democracy, our protectiveness of liberty.

*   *   *

Again, ask your supporters to support the new president. They won’t, most of them, but you’ll get credit for asking.

Mention your allies, the activists and unions, Jesse Jackson. “I have urged the Rev. Jackson to meet with the new president . . .”

That will make you look big, like a peacemaker. It also puts Bush on the spot. He’ll look churlish if he doesn’t meet with Jesse the way he wouldn’t meet with you. And anyway, the reports that minority neighborhoods got the oldest voting machines is a true scandal. It’s just wrong. Someone ought to put it on Bush’s plate right away. The only mandate he really walks in with now is this: a mandate to clean up the American electoral system. Ask him to do that as his first act. Again, it makes you a big-picture man; you’ll get credit. And he’ll have to do a lot of heavy lifting.

We think the tone should be The Full Shrummy—kind of magisterial, something with a certain formality and bigness:

In the past five weeks there has been much movement and action—clamor, and anger, and hopes. We have been in a Great Disagreement. But now it is over, now the clamor recedes, and we accept, fully and without reservation, the outcome.

And now we must continue together as a people, and surely we will. “We are not enemies but friends,” Abe Lincoln said. And so we are.

Beyond this big house the Potomac flows and the lights of Virginia glitter. Life goes on, the great nation goes on. I and my party have had a loss, but it is a small thing in the long history of the oldest democracy in the world. And though I have been defeated, the principles for which I fought have been upheld.

Mr. Bush will become President. The governor fought a long and hard campaign, one that in many respects deserves admiration. He is in a particular position now. He will need all our help. And we will give it to him. I personally will offer any encouragement or advice I have, and I urge you all to do the same.

In just a moment I will walk from this room. I will see you all again at the inauguration of Mr. Bush, when I as vice president of the United States peacefully take my part in the transfer of power, the peaceful transfer that has always distinguished our country.

I love our country enough to drop this challenge, I love our country with a great protectiveness, with great respect. I wish Mr. Bush well and remain at his service. And I ask you to join me in this thought, which is really a prayer, and one that has been answered every day for more than 200 years: “May God bless the United States of America.”

Well—something like that. Something bigger than you, and this, and what happened.

*   *   *

Then get out.

No meetings with the press, just walk out. And go away.

Go back to Tennessee. Don’t go regal. Take a train or bus if you can, no reason to take Air Force II. Leave that stuff to the new guys. Let them run it into the ground. Harry Truman walked to the train station the day he left the White House. Go like that.

Say you’ll depart the stage now for a while. Remember what Reagan used to say—he quoted some old Scots ballad when he lost to Ford in ‘76—”And I will lay me down and bleed a while, and then I will rise up and fight again.”

Really disappear from the scene for a year. People, to be frank, won’t miss you, not right away. Every time they see you the next few months it’ll remind them of The Big Mess. The Dems are mad at you for losing, the Reps for suing.

Sometimes you gotta give people a chance to miss you. So disappear. Let them watch Bush undistracted by your presence. They’ll get tired of him. Then you can rise your head, in the spring of 2002, and say, “I’m here!” You are knocked within and without your party for forever putting your own interests before the party’s. Make it up to them. When you come back in ‘02, come on strong, campaigning hard for the Dems in the off-year elections. By then people will have thoughts about their criticisms of you. Show the party you can play as part of a team.

In the next 18 months, rest and replenish. Government service, as Henry Kissinger said, is all intellectual outgo; you bring what wisdom and information and perspective you have in with you, and spend it each day in the White House. Get some intellectual income. You need it. Read some books. Ponder. Do things you don’t have to do. Recover your joy.

*   *   *

A last thought. The day before Christmas you can be seen taking stuff out of the vice president’s residence, old rocking horses and baseball mitts and stuff. Put it in a Ryder truck in the driveway. Jeans, turtleneck sweater. Tipper. Hug. Turn back to the house and then turn left, notice the press 40 yards away taking pictures, and wave.

Good shot. Kind of poignant.

There will probably still be a few right-wing nuts on Massachusetts Avenue, chanting “Get out of Dick Cheney’s house!” Go over and give them hot chocolate and pose for pictures and chat. Tell them you don’t agree with their views, never did and never will, but will defend to your death their right to hold them.

Your grace will be a hard cold lump in their throats.

On second thought, you don’t really have to be that gracious. Heck, who was it, Reagan? Rocky? He gave some protesters the finger and mouthed “We’re No. 1!” Go ahead. You’ve earned it.