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Morton Bruce Morton is one of CNN's leading national correspondents. In addition to his extensive political reporting for CNN, he delivers an essay each week, "The Last Word," on the network's Late Edition with Wolf Blitzer.

Bruce Morton: On 'Camelot' night, Gore sees another president's shadow

LOS ANGELES (CNN) -- Once there was a place called Camelot, Richard Burton sang in the musical. Maybe there was; it's hard to know now.

If you watch some of the old news film of the Kennedy years, some of the family movies which ended up in network libraries, it's easy to believe there was. Caroline and John, the world's most photographed children; sailboats, horses, dogs and laughter. All a long time ago; John Kennedy, had he lived, would be 83 now.

And now, of course, we remember the cracks in the kingdom, too. We know about Kennedy's affairs; we remember, if we rummage around some more in the film library, cops beating civil rights marchers in what was still the racially segregated South. We remember an ugly war in Vietnam, growing, growing. We remember a young president frustrated over the Bay of Pigs, frustrated trying to get his domestic program through a Congress ruled by conservative Democrats.

The fairest grade to give the Kennedy presidency, probably, would be "incomplete." But there was more: the sense of glamor and style the Kennedys brought to an America which still, back then, thought of itself as a rube in international glitzland. No longer. There was the president in France, his wife speaking French to Charles de Gaulle; there he was in the White House, with a cluster of Nobel laureates, charming them with the notion that they were the most distinguished minds ever to grace the building, "except when Thomas Jefferson dined here alone." If we suffered from a style gap, compared to Europe, and many of us feared we did, the Kennedys fixed that.

And then he died, and it all got swept up into the legend -- wasn't it Camelot? Really? Just for a moment? We might have put it in perspective, but tragedy pursued the Kennedys.

Robert ran, and died, murdered like his brother. Edward ran and failed -- un-Kennedy-like. But the dream, he said, "will never die." Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis fled the dream, raised her children as normally as she could, shielded by the privacy money can buy. But the legacy stalked them too. She died, and then her son John, just a year ago. So Caroline Kennedy Schlossberg, 42, a woman who values privacy, came to this convention as the last of the dead president's children, custodian, now of the legacy.

And that is graceful. The problem, of you're Al Gore, is the legacy of a more recent president -- your boss, Bill Clinton.

The delegates loved his Monday night speech. They liked his wife's speech too. Sitting women senators spoke, mostly not on TV screens; the First Candidate got prime time and a big welcome.

Both Clintons endorsed Gore, though the president made it more than clear that he'd run again (and again, probably) if it weren't for that pesky 22nd Amendment to the Constitution, the one that says he can't. And watching the delegates revel in Clinton, you had to wonder, would they revel in Gore, whose resume does not list a lot of occasions on which he brought folks to their feet? And is there any money left to raise in this star-studded state, or did the Clintons bag it all before they left?

Transitions are seldom easy. Dwight Eisenhower, asked to name something important Richard Nixon had done as his VP, told reporters to come back in a week, he'd try to think of something. The Clintons are much more supportive than that. But every time Clinton says something nice, he reminds voters of how good he is at saying things -- a talent Gore, wearing earth tones or blue suit and tie, seems mostly not to share.

Clinton's a natural. Gore, so far, is not. So making this convention, and the voters, his, won't be easy. And if he asks Clinton to campaign for him, won't the voters keep noticing the difference? And if Clinton doesn't campaign, won't voters probably notice anyway? It isn't easy, this week, being Gore.



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Tuesday, August 15, 2000


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