Susan Feeney, NPR News
Al Gore says President Bush has lost his focus on the war on terrorism.
Susan Feeney, NPR News
Al and Tipper Gore in NPR's New York studios.
Al Gore largely left the national stage nearly two years ago. The bitter Florida recount of the presidential vote ended with 5-4 U.S. Supreme Court decision that put George W. Bush in the White House.
Now, the former vice president and his wife, Tipper, are on a 25-day national tour to promote, Joined at the Heart: The Transformation of the American Family and The Spirit of Family, a collection of photos. They're also testing the country's appetite for another Gore candidacy. And they're beginning to answer the question many Democrats are asking: where's he been since December 2000?
"The country went through quite a traumatic experience in that 36-day recount period and the new president needed the affirmation of legitimacy," Gore tells NPR's Bob Edwards in a Morning Edition interview. "I could have run a four-year rear-guard guerrilla campaign to undermine his legitimacy... [but] with the United States as the acknowledged leader of the world, I personally came to the conclusion that in accepting the rule of law I also wanted to accept an obligation to withdraw from the public stage for a time."
And, Gore half-jokes, "after 24 years and 36 days in public service, I wanted to take some time off." (Before serving eight years as Bill Clinton's vice president, Gore represented Tennessee in the U.S. House and Senate.)
Gore lays much of the blame for losing the 2000 election on the economic downturn and stock market slide that began earlier that year. And, while he takes "full responsibility for not doing better than I did," Gore doesn't blame the Clinton sex scandal for his loss.
Still Gore acknowledges the effectiveness of the Bush-Cheney campaign's emphasis on restoring "honor and integrity" to the White House.
Tipper Gore ads: "I just want to remind everybody, the reality is Al got more votes than any Democrat in history and he did get more votes than the current president and, you know, that makes us feel good."
Turning to Bush's performance in the White House, Gore says the president did a "magnificent job in the immediate aftermath of Sept. 11."
But after the war in Afghanistan, Gore says, Bush "began once again to get on the wrong track and lost focus on the war against terrorism," turning his attention instead to Iraq and Saddam Hussein.
That very shift also helped Bush turn voters' attention away from economic and other domestic issues, handing the Republicans a big win in this year's midterm election, Gore says. As a result, he says, Democratic leaders "had a difficult hand to play."
In the second part of the interview to air on Thursday's Morning Edition, Gore addresses his own plans, including whether he'll run again in 2004.
It's a decision he says he hasn't made yet. "I really do not know if I'm going to be a candidate. I haven't ruled it out." Gore says he expects to announce a decision soon after the Christmas holidays.
"If I did run again, it would be on the basis of just starting over from scratch and not taking anything for granted," Gore says. He says he would concentrate on "talking to people in small groups and individually... " and trying to "speak in depth, directly from my heart, about the major challenges facing the country."