Al Gore's Graceful Valedictory

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Vice President Al Gore concedes the election on national TV

At long last, Al Gore has found his passion.

In a heartfelt and carefully paced concession speech Wednesday night, the vice president covered the emotional gamut. He thanked his family and the Liebermans, who were all gathered in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building, looking grim. He congratulated his supporters for a well-fought battle.

And then he extended not only an olive branch to President-elect Bush, but a helping hand and a pledge of cooperation. "We must begin healing the divisions" of the election and post-election struggle, Gore intoned. And so "I offer my concession."

This was the best speech Al Gore has given — if not ever, then certainly in this election cycle — and perhaps it's no coincidence that it heralds his departure from combat and his introduction into a new realm of political observation. Perhaps he is already thinking of a run in 2004, but for the moment, he said, he was going back to Tennessee, "to mend some fences, both literally and figuratively."

The passion in the speech was reserved for pleas for patriotism, not for bitterness. Gore made only one brief mention of the U.S. Supreme Court ruling that ended his candidacy, saying, "While I strongly disagree with the Court's decision, I will abide by it." And then it was back to the words it must have been so difficult to say. "Do I have any regrets? Yes. Only that I cannot stay and fight on."

And as he and Tipper were swallowed up by an applauding crowd waiting outside, Gore smiled, worked the rope and then disappeared into his car. As much as he might have yearned to stay and soak up a moment of adulation, the politician in him knew this was not a time to linger. It was, in his words, simply time to go.