What Gore Should Do (Maybe) 

Dear Gov. Bush:

You and I are in a unique historical situation, and we are in it together. For at least one of us, and maybe for both, the actions of the next few days will be what we are remembered for by history. I am determined to do the right thing, and I believe I have figured out what that is. I hope you agree.

I analyze our situation this way.

First, a plurality of voters nationwide has expressed a preference that I should be the next president.

Second, it is clear beyond reasonable challenge that a plurality of voters in Florida shares that preference, though some number of them were thwarted in their attempt to express it. If they had not been thwarted, I would have a clear majority in the Electoral College.

Third, because the preferences these voters believed they were expressing went unrecorded, the official Florida vote count gives you a tiny plurality and therefore an Electoral College majority.

Fourth, uncertainty about who will be the next president is damaging to our country and will become more so as time goes on. This needs to be resolved soon.

Fifth—and here is the crux (and for me the agony) of the situation: Only I can do something about it. Although it is clear that justice, logic, and—quite possibly—the law dictate that I should be the next president, neither one of us can make that happen quickly. You cannot cede Florida to me, even if you were willing to do so. However, I can cede Florida to you by abandoning my—legitimate—challenges to voting irregularities in Palm Beach County and elsewhere.

I am prepared to do that. But for the sake of the people who voted for me, for history, and—to be brutally honest at this dramatic moment—for myself, I need something from you. It must be something that rewards my supporters for the sacrifice they are making, the loss of an opportunity to which they are entitled to see the government directed according to their agenda and their values. It must be something that makes clear beyond later denial that you hold the presidency as a result of historical accident and the grace and patriotism of others, not as a matter of indisputable right. And frankly, it must be something that hurts a bit, because the smugness and arrogance of your advisers during the past few days has made this gesture much more difficult for me and others.

It is tempting to demand some concrete role for Democrats in the next administration. Some have suggested a formally bipartisan Cabinet, or even more exotic scenarios such as the replacement of Secretary Cheney with Sen. Lieberman as vice president. But our system is not well-suited to coalition government. I think it is better to insist on your support for an item from the agenda I am abandoning. And I can think of nothing more fitting than campaign-finance reform.

Although the present situation is not directly the result of our corrupt electoral process, a cleaner system would have produced a cleaner result, one way or another. And as you have had occasion to note, I am as enmeshed in the system as you are. It has been my belief that you play the game according to the rules even as you work to change them. But I have publicly endorsed serious reform—the McCain-Feingold bill—which you have opposed. So, if you will drop your opposition and back McCain-Feingold (or something very close to it)—and if the Republican leaders in Congress will co-sign the agreement—I will drop my court challenges and allow you to become president. We needn’t work out the details before resolving the presidential issue. I am willing to trust your good faith on a matter of such historical gravity.

It seems to me this is a generous offer. You get a presidency to which you are not entitled in exchange for a single piece of legislation that already has overwhelming public support. I get historical clarity about the sacrifice I am making and imposing on those who voted for me. And the American people get a political system they can be proud of.

Let me know.

Yours sincerely,

Al Gore