The man was an experienced public speaker and had participated in more than a few endeavors that require communicating with clarity. But maybe he was tired of making his stump speech and hearing himself use the same words again and again. So he advised reporters to be perspicacious students of human behavior and our sources' tells and ticks, to cultivate a phlegmatic exterior when reporting, and to understand that effective watchdogs must both dissemble and recognize when others are doing the same. But all of this was only something I and other students discovered after our first class.
That very first class was an on-the-record, one-time opportunity for a Q-and-A with Gore. The man had come exceedingly close to the presidency and (as we now know, won the popular vote and lost the electoral college by just four electors). He was officially defeated for office when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that a recount of Florida's unclear election results must permanently cease because it could not be completed in time for Florida to exercise full control over how its electors use the votes that ultimately determine the presidential election. The court heard the case Dec. 11, 2000, and decided it the following day, 5 to 4. That cleared the way for an election certification made by Florida's Republican secretary of state, now former congresswoman Katherine Harris (R-Fla.), and political ally of Bush's brother, then-Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, to stand in favor of George W. Bush. The court had effectively handed the Presidency to George W. Bush. In the absence of any further litigation that stood.
A little more than a month later, Gore was in our classroom, prepared to shape minds that would cover future elections. Most of the people in that classroom had never seen an election that had not been called on election night, but some were working as stringers for publications that wanted to hear what Gore had to say.
As most readers have by now probably guessed, the very first question centered around the election mess. Why had Gore conceded to George W. Bush when so much remained unclear, and did he regret giving up the fight?
Al Gore reached up, rubbed his forehead for a few awkward seconds of silence, then took a deep breath. The temperature in the room did not change. But rings of sweat became visible in several places on his shirt. The answer: It was the right thing to do. For the country, for democracies everywhere, another peaceable and orderly transfer of power was most important. There would be future elections.
The man had said it, but broken out in a sweat while getting it out.
That was then. Fifteen years later, Gore is on the campaign trail stumping for Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton and referring to himself and that election in a darkly humorous fashion. Gore told an audience in Florida to "consider me Exhibit A" for the fact that every single vote matters. The smallest margins and the finest details can determine an election and shape the country for decades to come.
But let's be clear. It took Gore 15 years to get here.
Gore has not always been so direct — in public — about the 2000 election and all of the never-before-seen events it set in motion. Obviously, any election loss is hard, and close ones may weigh particularly hard on most of the ego-driven politicians. But Gore's loss was not just narrow and less than certain. It was not just decided by the Supreme Court, which, after deliberating less than a full day, reached a conclusion that allowed the election to finally be called. Al Gore was a vice president who had lost narrowly after distancing himself from the sitting president and his wife. Back then, Gore went so far as to describe himself as angry and disappointed with then-President Bill Clinton on the campaign trail, Politico reported.
It's hard to remember now, but in 2000, Americans were recovering from a wave of almost-never-before-things-seen-and-said about U.S. politics. Between January and December 1998, the president's affair with a 22-year-old White House intern was exposed. He denied it. She had saved a dress with the DNA proof. He denied it under oath in a separate sexual-harassment suit, committing perjury. A special prosecutor investigated the president, then issued a massive public report, including some content involving the Oval Office that may make Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump blush. Clinton issued a formal response. He was impeached by the House of Representatives under the leadership of men who were themselves adulterers, after which the bid to remove Clinton from office failed in the Senate. Clinton then served out the rest of his second term.
Gore made the decision that in the 2000 election, distance from the Clintons was what he wanted. Hillary Clinton, whose approval ratings rose during the scandal, went a different route in her 2000 Senate campaign. And as Politico put it, he lost. She won.
In 2008, Gore did not endorse Hillary Clinton's bid for the White House, and this time he did so via Twitter, in July. Now, Gore is on the campaign trail for Clinton, the Democratic presidential nominee. His Exhibit A speech and focus on climate change is supposed to help galvanize young voters on behalf of Clinton. And it so far seems to have gone over more smoothly than a climate-change speech Gore gave last week. Fusion found it's content so nakedly crafted to appear simpatico with Millennial voters that it published a satirical version online . So in that sense, this week's dark humor and a not-so-subtle warning about protest votes and apathy is another move toward dignity.
For the rest of us, seeing Gore up there on stage offers a reminder. Even the most unusual election in history can be topped and survived.
CLARIFICATION: This post has been updated to clarify the satirical nature of a critique of Gore's speech.