Gore's Pre-Wilderness Handshake

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Al Gore greets President-elect Bush outside the vice president's residence

It was a speedy meeting, fraught with symbolism. After greeting each other with cordial smiles and vigorous handshakes, Vice President Al Gore and President-elect George W. Bush conferred privately for about 20 minutes Tuesday at the vice president's residence. The talk, aides report, centered on reconciliation and the now-familiar theme of "healing the wounds" left by a bitter election and post-election cycle. They could have talked about peanut brittle, of course, and it wouldn't have made much difference. The healing was all in the pre-confab photo-op.

Both men have made much of their intentions to help smooth the rocky road of transition, as the Gore family packs up to make room for the Cheneys, and the Bushes commission moving vans to take them to Pennsylvania Avenue. But for Gore, more than anyone else who's out of a job on January 20, the challenge does not lie in the few weeks before Inauguration Day, but in the months and years that follow. What will this lifelong public servant do with himself in the unexpected and inescapable void yawning out ahead of him?

Another presidency pooh-poohed

He has plenty of time to think about it, of course. But a few suggestions have already popped up. If he can't be president of the United States, perhaps he'd enjoy taking the helm of his alma mater instead? Gore is one of 500 nominees who will be considered for the top job at Harvard University, although most suspect he will not make the final cut. "He'll go into our pool and be considered seriously," Robert G. Stone of the Harvard Corporation told the Associated Press. But, Stone continued — and here's the tough part, Al — "Gore doesn't have the academic or intellectual standing" required for the job. Ouch. Others involved in the selection process are more equivocal in their dismissals, but the message stands: Even the wonkiest politicians aren't guaranteed special treatment in Cambridge. (And you thought it was hard to get into Harvard).

Then, of course, there are the book deals looming on the horizon. No firm offers yet, but if Gore were moved to write, for example, a sequel to his "Earth in the Balance," he could probably find a publisher willing to take the risk.

A cheery pre-Christmas poll

No matter what the vice president chooses to do over the next several years, friends and advisers suspect he will keep at least one foot firmly planted in the political sphere — and his name and likeness highly visible. And while the sting of his defeat at the hands of the U.S. Supreme Court may linger, he can take some comfort in new numbers released Tuesday by the Gallup Organization. According to the granddaddy of polls, Gore's approval rating has shot up in the days since he gave his concession speech. Fifty-seven percent of Americans polled regard him favorably, versus 40 percent who view him unfavorably. That's a stunning reversal of public opinion two weeks ago, when only 46 percent of those surveyed viewed Gore favorably, and 52 percent saw him in an unfavorable light. His graceful exit last week has apparently softened more than a few hearts — particularly among Republican voters, according to the poll — and has perhaps left a few doors open for his return to the national stage in four years. A final Gallup question asked, "If the 2004 presidential election were held today, whom would you vote for: Bush or Gore?" Gore took the race by 9 percentage points; 50 to 41 percent. Too little, too late, perhaps. But in Washington, the next election is always just around the corner.