As predicted earlier today, Gore faced the trade-off between grace and honesty by yielding to the demands of graciousness. Indeed, his concession surprised me with the degree to which it sought courtesy at the expense of candor about what has actually been happening during the past 35 days.
The graciousness came in Gore’s unqualified expressions of support for the winner. He said he had called George W. Bush to congratulate him and offered to meet with him to help “heal the divisions of the campaign.” Quoting Stephen Douglas, the man Abraham Lincoln beat in 1860, Gore said, “Partisan feeling must yield to patriotism.” He expressed the hope that God would bless Bush’s “stewardship of this country.” He said he would “put aside” any feelings of rancor and accept the outcome. He urged his supporters to do the same. “Some have expressed concern that the unusual nature of this election might hamper the next president in the conduct of his office,” Gore said. “I do not believe it need be so.”
Gore smiled through his entire statement and made extensive use of his talent for self-deprecating humor, perhaps because it is his only real rhetorical skill and perhaps because it was a way to avoid placing blame on his opponent. He acknowledged that he blew it in his home state of Tennessee and said that when he called Bush to concede tonight, he promised that this time, he wouldn’t call back. He ended with a wisecrack: “And now, my friends, in a phrase I once addressed to others, it is time for me to go.”
The lack of candor came in Gore’s failure to say anything at all to indicate that he continues to believe he really won the election or that George W. Bush played foul in taking the prize away from him. Gore’s only note of complaint was when he said that he “strongly disagreed,” with the Supreme Court’s decision, but he quickly added that he would accept it. When he wanted to say something to indicate that he was holding fast to his principles, Gore used lofty phraseology not quite in keeping with the colloquial tone of the rest of the speech. “While we yet hold and do not yield our opposing beliefs,” he said, “there is a higher duty than the one we owe to political party.” At one point, he did allow that he was “disappointed.”
Is it ungracious of me to discern something false in Gore’s upbeat tone and presentation? He seemed to me like a man who smiles to keep from crying. Of course, it wouldn’t be appropriate for Gore to curse the gods or hurl imprecations at the victor. But by entirely burying the emotions he must be feeling–anger, outrage, and the sense that he was the victim of massive injustice–I think Gore failed the test of sincerity.