Vice President Al Gore's chances of winning the 2000 election improved markedly last week. The G Factor kicked in, obliterating most of the doubts that have dogged Gore's early days on the campaign trail.
The G Factor does not refer to glamour, a commodity in which the vice president remains two quarts short of full. It does not mean gravitas, something with which he is overburdened. It certainly does not stand for global warming or growth, or any of the other snoozer topics with which Gore lards his speeches.
No, the G Factor is grandfatherhood, a blessed state which Gore attained for the first time on the Fourth of July when his daughter Karenna gave birth to Wyatt Gore Schiff. At the moment that Wyatt yelped his welcome to the world, Grandpa Al seized an advantage of incalculable value over virtually all the others in the presidential field.
America is unconsciously yearning for a grandfather in the White House, a wise old coot who can connect us with the solid values of the past and help us get these computer-age youngsters off on the right foot.
George W. may think the voters are suffering buyers' remorse for having booted his dad out of the White House in 1992 and want to bring back a Bush. But the Bush part is irrelevant. What we really want is to restore those three-generation picnics to the South Lawn with the National Gramps surrounded by ankle-nippers. W.'s daughters are too young to fulfill our hopes.
Shockingly, only one of the Republican contenders who have been on the hustings for months or years can match Gore's feat. Sen. John McCain has four grandchildren from his first marriage. Gore's only Democratic rival, former senator Bill Bradley of New Jersey, is a sort of surrogate granddad. His wife, Ernestine, has a daughter from her first marriage who is the mother of four. They have the love of their step-grandfather but not his genes.
So at the early age of 51 Gore has volunteered to fill this national need. Others may talk about the importance of tradition; he and his wife Tipper have a head start on the heritage front.
Fine for them, you say, but how does that translate into votes? There are millions of grandparents out there, and we vote. I say we advisedly, having been introduced to the state of grandfatherhood 11 years ago when Daniel arrived, to be followed by Lauren, Madeleine, Nicole, Emma Rose and Julia. We vote early and often, because we figure we may not have too many more chances to get the country running right. And we look for grandfathers to support.
As voters, grandparents are the most discerning people in the electorate. Our eyesight and our hearing are perhaps not as sharp as they once were, so you can't beguile us with a TV game show host's phony smile or a lot of smooth talk.
A candidate who is himself a grandfather understands this -- even without the aid of the four pollsters Gore now has under contract. And grandfatherhood connotes other qualities which even those younger voters, who know from nothing, can sometimes appreciate.
History shows that a more optimistic candidate almost always beats a downbeat, dour opponent. Grandfathers are born-again optimists. We have been through the ordeal of watching our own children grow up and have survived. You show me a man who says he liked his own children when they were teenagers and I'll show you a liar. But when those twerps hit their twenties and thirties, something wonderful happens. They stop squandering the family fortune on their schooling. They marry better than they deserve -- especially if they are, as mine are, boys. And then, amazingly, they turn out to be better parents than you were -- on your best or best-imagined day.
As for the grandchildren, they are everything your own children were not. They are cute and cuddly at first, and then they are affectionate and playful and, miraculously, even respectful. They crawl in your lap to be read to, and they like your stories because they haven't heard them a hundred times before. Best of all, when they turn sour or whiny or quarrelsome, they are no longer yours: It's "Dad or Mom, get in here!"
In short, grandfathers have it made. And now that Al Gore is a grandpa, he will begin to reap the rewards his new status deserves. Watch out, world. Grandpa Gore is on a roll.
There's only one man he has to worry about. Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah, who declared himself a candidate for the Republican nomination just days ago to much derisive laughter, has 18 grandchildren. He may be overqualified for the job.