Wednesday, August 16, 2000

Now Al can get to work

        LOS ANGELES — OK, Al, you can come out now. He's gone.

        After nearly five days of hobnobbing with Hollywood's elite, raising millions for his presidential library, and making grown men cry on the floor of the Staples Center on Monday night with his farewell speech, Bill Clinton is gone, really gone, and he won't be back.

        And now maybe Al Gore can start his convention.

        The Ohio delegation was the first to know that Bill and Hillary Clinton had pulled out of the Century City hotel complex.

Happy he's gone

               Few of them will admit it, but many Democrats here are getting quite passionate about electing Al Gore and keeping the Bushes out of the White House, and they are just as happy to see Mr. Clinton gone.

        The first few days of this convention were more about Mr. Clinton than his vice president and prospective heir; and, given the mixed bag of good and bad that attaches itself to being Bill Clinton's friend, the Gore people were more than anxious to make this Mr. Gore's convention.

        But Monday night, it was all Clinton, all the time, with Mrs. Clinton making her speech and a gauzy-lens film tribute to the 42nd president of the United States. And, of course, the speech.

        The speech was classic Clinton — all humility and vision, with subtle digs at his political opponents. It was followed by a gleeful, teary-eyed demonstration on the floor of the Staples Center, with Fleetwood Mac's “Don't Stop Thinking About Tomorrow” blaring over the arena speakers — as it did eight years ago in Madison Square Garden in New York, when the Clinton-Gore campaign began. “Bill and Al's Excellent Adventure” they called it. Now, Mr. Gore — trailing in the polls and desperate for a positive convention to jump-start his campaign — can get on with asking Americans to keep the best of the Clinton-Gore years and forgetting the rest. He will have to get out from under the considerable Clinton shadow.

        Mr. Clinton, as Gore delegate Keith Borders of Cincinnati put it, “is a tough act to follow.'

Providing more detail

               What Democrats here expect Mr. Gore to do when he delivers his all-important acceptance speech Thursday night is lay out a plan for a Gore administration more detailed than the general, feel-good speech George W. Bush delivered two weeks ago in Philadelphia and try to convince people there is no reason to change parties when the nation is in the midst of the biggest economic boom in generations.

        “Clinton's passing the torch; Al Gore has to catch it,” said Cincinnatian Tom Mooney, president of the Ohio Federation of Teachers. “He can't let the Republicans hang him with Clinton's scandals, the president's conduct. It's not fair, and he can't let it happen.”

        It might be easier for Al Gore to shed that heavy weight now that Bill has blown out of town.

Howard Wilkinson covers politics for the Enquirer.