Now It's the One (Bush) vs. the Many (Gore)

  • Share
  • Read Later

Is that all there is?

An odd sort of deflation comes in the aftermath of Super Tuesday — a sense of premature crescendo, as if the party had been called off at 9:30 p.m. John McCain and Bill Bradley gave the race its resonance — its conflict, its moral fire, its nastiness. Now — poof! — both of the interesting men appear to be gone. And we are left with Gore and Bush, the sons, the dynastic duo, the Expected Ones.

It used to be that at this stage of an election year, we were just rubbing the political sleep from our eyes. Now, the misbegotten front-loading of the primary process has decided the nominations before the snow is melted. The Civil War is settled at the first Bull Run. The regular football season ends on October 7, and we sit and wait months for the Super Bowl.

It's a long, long time from March to November. By fall, George W. Bush and Al Gore will be gasping for breath and suffering from third-degree media-burn, and we will all be so sick of the two of them that we will consider giving up our citizenship. We will fitfully tune politics in and out. Will the networks bother to cover the conventions? Mom, when will we be there?

But politics and media abhor a vacuum. Presidential candidates always pass through a series of metamorphoses (Bush and Gore have both been through two or three already). The Gore-Bush race may become, in its own way, riveting. We live in hope.

I would guess their fight will seem to be (leaving aside larger matters of ideology) between the One and the Many.

There seems to be one George W. Bush. The comparative simplicity of his character (validated by his good genes) will harden into a virtue of reliability that will be his greatest asset. But the public will wonder whether that one Bush is good enough — smart enough, mature enough, experienced enough. His body English is troubling (a certain jockstrap immaturity), and his spoken English can be even worse (incomplete sentences, spluttering non sequiturs).

On the other hand, there seem to be many Al Gores. The public's question will not be whether he is smart enough or experienced enough, but which Gore is the real one — which Gore, that is, voters would be electing to the White House.

Multiple Gores: Gore Number One (abundantly qualified by experience, brains, knowledge) coexists with Gore Number Two (needy kid with daddy complex, beta male) coexists with Gore Number Three (ruthless political gut fighter and truth-bender) coexists with Gore Number Four (Boy Scout, bright as a new dime, with merit badges in environment and policy wonking) coexists with Gore Number Five (the one you saw at the Buddhist temple).... And so on.

When Ulysses Grant was dying of throat cancer in 1885, he wrote an oddly interesting note to his doctor: "I think I am a verb instead of a personal pronoun. A verb is anything that signifies to be, to do, to suffer. I signify all three." Bush seems to be a kind of verb, or at least two-thirds of a verb, the doing and being part — an ordinary man perhaps, but given to common sense and fitted for action. That's the most favorable reading of him. But Gore, which part of speech is he? Pronoun? Half a dozen pronouns? On the other hand, judging from Gore's performance in the last couple of months, he also knows how to be a fairly ruthless verb.