Memo to Gore: Walk Away From the White House

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Al Gore makes phone calls during the campaign

To: Vice President Gore

Re: The Election

Dear Mr. Gore:

History remembers the strangest things: Ronald Reagan's jellybean fetish, Nixon's penchant for tape recorders, Johnson's inexplicable urge to pick his dogs up by their ears. And although you may not feel like it right now, you're in an enviable position: Over the next week or so you have the opportunity to shape not only the way history will remember you, but the way the future will treat you as well.

Next Friday, when the official recount has come in and all the absentee ballots have returned from overseas, you'll know whether Floridians chose you or your opponent on November 7. And if you've come up short in the tally, you should gracefully step aside and let Bush take up the presidency.

It sounds outrageous, I know, especially when there are so many questions remaining: What about those Buchanan votes? Those discarded ballots? The sheer unfairness of it all? The easy road in a situation like this is paved with temper tantrums and legal maneuvering.

So take the hard road. Be the bigger man. Get out of the way of the Bush steamroller and let Americans see that you are, in fact, a guy who's capable of behaving like a president. We'll remember that in four years, I can promise you that.

The legal challenges your team keeps threatening represent a singularly bad political logic. I know you're not challenging the voters, but in a way, that's what it sounds like. To many it seems that you're not happy with the outcome of the election, and so you're challenging the results. And while you may have grounds for some well-placed anger, you've also got the opportunity to do something truly historic: Walk away.

It will show people that you put the welfare of the nation before your own ambition. It will show that you have an uncommon devotion to the common good. It will show that you can rise above the messiness and unruliness and see what's best for the country, not the Gore family. It will show people that you are that rare thing, a statesman.

It's not impossible. Dick Nixon did it back in 1960, even when he was fairly certain there had been a little hanky-panky back in the ballot boxes of Texas and Illinois. He did grudgingly and reluctantly, but he did it. And then he ran successfully just eight years later. Assuming that Bush survives his first term and performs in an unspectacular fashion, you could conceivably be ensconced in the Oval Office by January 2005.

Spend the interim four years getting to know all of us a bit better, and, more importantly, letting us get to know you. We've heard about your decidedly un-robotic behind-the-scenes persona, and now that the pressure's off, maybe we could witness your purported grooviness firsthand.

Take up golf. (Well, scratch that.) Get some empathy tips from Clinton. Mow the lawn. Help Albert III with his college applications.

It's a gift, really, all this time. You're young, and you're smart. You've got the rest of your political life spreading out before you like a giant, blue-coded electoral map. It'll be tough at first, of course, those initial weeks after the decision. You'll probably feel an inexplicable urge to shake strangers' hands, drink bad coffee, sleep for three hours a night. And you might need to wear ties for a few weeks — you'll feel naked without one. Just take it one day at a time. Coming off a campaign is kind of like detox, hopefully without the tremors.

In the meantime, take Tipper and the kids and Bill Daley on a nice long vacation, far away from Washington. And for heaven's sake stay away from those swing states. The weather in Ohio is horrible this time of year.