It was a noble, wistful and even funny (once) speech by which Al Gore congratulated George W. Bush on becoming the 43rd president of the United States. Having conceded once before, and then retracted, during election night, he reassured Bush: "I won't be calling back this time."

Many observers, both in the U.S. and abroad, have been fearful about the fall-out of this fiercely contested (and counted) election. Would the final verdict, as rendered in a sibyllinic and wordy decision of the Supreme Court, split the nation into two warring camps? Not if it is up to Al Gore. Quoting the noble words with which Senator Stephen Douglas had conceded defeat to Abraham Lincoln, Gore said: "Partisan feeling must yield to patriotism. I am with you, Mr. President, and God bless you."

Now that the Supreme Court has spoken, Gore added, he would accept the "finality of this outcome", for America was a nation dedicated to the principle: "Not under man but under God and law."

Considering that a throw of the dice would have been as just as all the counts and recounts in this most narrow of electoral outcomes, one must feel for Al Gore. So near, and yet so far. But then this question arises: Would it have been wiser for Gore to concede much earlier, as Richard Nixon had done in 1960? Though Nixon's partisans unleashed various post-election challenges, demanding a recount here, a court verdict there, "Tricky Dick" did the smart thing, as it turned out...

He pulled out of the brawl quickly so as not to endanger his future political career as a "sore loser." Diligently, he worked the country for the next eight years, speaking at small-town Kiwanis and Elks clubs, doing favors for a myriad of Republican candidates, amassing a pile of IOU's in his party. And he bided his time. In 1968, he ran again--and won.

One must wonder about Al Gore's chances in 2004, though. The mill stone around his neck may be a reputation tainted by obsessive-compulsive reflexes, shaky judgment and a bad sense of timing. Perhaps, his Democratic Party will give him another chance, as it did when it renominated Adlai Stevenson in 1956. He ran twice and lost twice. But the bet is that Gore will not get another shot.

Watch out for for a slew of ambitious Democratic senators and governors, as they test the waters beginning in 2002. And watch out for Hillary.