AL GORE'S RELIEF at pulling himself out of the 2004 presidential race was evident during his performance on Saturday Night Live, hours before his decision was announced.
His spoof of Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott's alleged segregationist sympathies was wickedly funny, but highly impolitic. He also poked fun at his own White House yearnings with a lighthearted abandon missing from his plodding campaign persona.
In liberating himself, Mr. Gore made the right decision, of course. All indications at this point suggest a Gore rematch with President Bush would have been much more difficult for him than the first contest.
Mr. Bush is no longer a novice but a world leader with a top-notch political machine. Voters may be eager for a Democrat two years from now. But many party activists believe their prospects would be better with a fresh face. The former vice president wisely anticipated that if he challenged the president, the race would likely be more about the past than the future.
Which is not to say Mr. Bush isn't begging for a challenge. The president himself has acknowledged he is vulnerable on the economy. Civil liberties advocates, environmentalists, individuals struggling under the growing cost of health care -- all could make a case against the Bush administration.
Nor should approval of Mr. Gore's decision to forsake a presidential bid at this time suggest that the nation is no longer in need of his services.
With Mr. Gore's wealth of experience as a congressman and senator as well as vice president, he has much to offer as an elder statesman, even at the tender age of 54. As Jimmy Carter proved, government officials can sometimes provide their most valuable public service after they leave office.
Or perhaps a comedy career is in the offing for Mr. Gore. Judging from his performance Saturday night, the non-candidate Gore is not only funnier but more likable. Maybe he and Bob Dole -- another presidential hopeful who found success in late-night TV -- could work up a bipartisan standup routine and hit the road.
Americans could use some laughs.