The former vice president is no General Sherman

June 11, 2006|By JULES WITCOVER

WASHINGTON — Former vice president is no General ShermanWASHINGTON -- Nobody has done more to bring Civil War Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman back into the news lately than former Vice President Al Gore, simply by saying he's not going to repeat the general's famous rejection of interest in the presidency.

On the ABC News talk show last Sunday, Gore said he has "no plans" to run in 2008 and doesn't "expect to ever be a candidate for president again," but that he sees no reason to voice Sherman's observation that, "if nominated I will not run; if elected I will not serve."

He explained that "I haven't made a so-called Sherman statement because it just seems unnecessary - kind of odd to do that."

On other occasions, the man who often wryly introduces himself to audiences as the fellow "who used to be the next president of the United States" has also said he doesn't believe in saying never, either.

In noting he has eschewed any Sherman-like statement, Gore said it's "not an effort to hold the door open," but that is the practical effect of not saying it, in terms of encouraging Democrats who want him to run.

Gore said he "can't imagine any circumstances in which I would become a candidate again," adding, "I've found other ways to serve" and he is enjoying them. Others, however, can easily imagine such circumstances.

One would be a growing sentiment among many Democrats that the current front-runner in the polls for their party's Democratic nomination, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York - for one reason or another - can't be elected. Some cling to the notion that the country isn't ready to elect a woman as president; others see her as polarizing figure whose candidacy could pull the Republicans out of their tailspin.

As categorical as General Sherman's statement was, it is seldom believed by voters and often eventually ignored by politicians uttering it. In 1948, another retired general, Dwight D. Eisenhower, implored by leaders of both parties to run for them, did stick to his word, but he relented in 1952, ran and was elected.

In the 1968 presidential cycle, Republican Gov. Nelson Rockefeller of New York, backing the struggling candidacy of Gov. George Romney of Michigan, flatly said, "I don't want to be president." But he finally gave in after Romney folded and Rocky's longtime foe, Richard Nixon, seemed to have a clear field for the nomination. He failed to stop him.

In the end, Sherman-like statements are not - in the immortal words of Samuel Goldwyn - worth the paper they're written on.

Jules Witcover's memoir, "The Making of an Ink-Stained Wretch," has just been published by Johns Hopkins University Press. You can respond to this column at

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