No More Gore -- For Now

So Al Gore has announced that he will not run for president in 2004. The nature of the 2000 election created psychological dynamics that make a successful Gore candidacy in 2004 almost impossible. Give Gore credit for being wise enough to face reality, and make a wise decision.

There exists in psychology what we call a "Just World Syndrome." Reality-based feelings of vulnerability are reduced by believing that we live in a "just world." This defense functions to deny that unpredictable and uncontrollable events occur. We rationalize that the victim must somehow be to blame for the misfortune e.g., rape victims for being raped because it is too frightening to think that it could happen to us. We assume that there must have been something the person did, or failed to do.

Gore received more votes than Bush, but voting irregularities cost Gore enough votes to have won Florida. Many believe that the Supreme Court stopped a Gore presidency, and there were other alleged irregularities in the election. In the end, Gore did not occupy the White House. These events were not under Gore's control.

Many adults are attached to the childlike illusion that presidents always can and will protect us. Feelings of anger and anxiety occur when we realize that the men who are presidents can be victims. Americans' core belief is in democracy. We don't like the idea that the person who received the majority of votes was not declared the winner. The mainstream media blamed Gore; some called him a "sore loser," and focused on finding fault with the way he ran his campaign.

We blamed the victim. This way our beliefs in our electoral system remain intact. Denial and rationalization are not mature ways to cope with reality. Gore would have faced almost insurmountable psychological dynamics had he tried to run against Bush. Americans would have been confronted with the cognitive dissonance that Bush has been leading this country for years, and that the man who had actually received the most votes was running against him. Bush would have benefited by the desire of people to reduce cognitive dissonance by reelecting Bush, and rejecting Gore as a candidate and a person.

Another factor is that Bush has benefited politically by the terrorism against our country. Bush seeks to make patriotism synonymous with allegiance to his administration; and his exploitation of symbolism and fear has been highly effective. Bush has at times used terrorist warnings as a distraction, and increased war rhetoric at politically convenient times. The methods Bush uses to pursue power may even suggest sociopathy.

For those who are disheartened by Al Gore's decision not to run, it should be kept in mind that Gore will be only 58 years old four years from now, and the psychological dynamics will be different. My take on Gore's comments is that he wants to not just be a candidate who makes an activist statement, but the President of the United States. He seems to be wisely delaying gratification. That is what adults do.

Robert E. Griffin is a member of Psychologists For Social Responsibility.

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