If only election night 2000 had gone so smoothly.
Buried in the boxes and boxes of Clinton documents released Friday by the National Archives and the Clinton Library were two statements applauding the next president -- whether it be Vice President Al Gore or Texas Gov. George W. Bush.
Both congratulatory drafts were time-stamped at 5:30 p.m. on Election Day, Nov. 7, 2000, meaning they were written and ready to go before the polls closed that night. In both, President Bill Clinton was to speak about the importance of fiscal discipline and social progress, alluding to his own record in the White House.
In “Statement 2,” written for a cut and dry Bush/Cheney win, Clinton was to say, “all of us can agree that this is a time of unprecedented prosperity and great promise and that it is the responsibility of the new administration and the next Congress to ensure that this promise is fulfilled,” speechwriter Jeff Shesol wrote for Clinton to say. “It will require a dedication to fiscal discipline and to social progress.”
In both statements Clinton talks about the losers doing great things in the future, but his statement to a losing Gore was more personal. “I know that in the years ahead, AI Gore, his wonderful wife Tipper, and his running mate Senator Lieberman, will continue to serve our country in a multitude of ways,” Clinton was to say if Bush had won the White House.
If Gore had won, Clinton was to “congratulate” Bush and Cheney “for their honest and vigorous debate of the issues and for the principled tone of their message to the American people,” the president was to say. “I am sure they will continue to serve our nation with distinction in the years to come.”
Of course Clinton’s real statement on that presidential election wasn’t to come for another month -- on Dec. 14, 2000, after the Supreme Court halted the Florida recount, making certain that Bush, not Gore, would move into Clinton's presidential digs.
Our colleague Robert Schlesinger wrote about this particular speech in his book “White House Ghosts: Presidents and Their Speechwriters,” noting that three speechwriters -- Terry Edmonds, Paul Glastris and John Pollack -- had each written a draft and then melded their work together. Meanwhile, Clinton was visiting U.K. Prime Minister Tony Blair at his country home. Clinton faxed back a draft that “was black” with edits.
“They pored over the pages and slowly realized how much he had rewritten,” Schlesinger wrote. “Three words remained from their original draft: ‘Vice,’ ‘President,’ ‘Gore.’”
The newly released Clinton documents revealed other edits made to the statement, too. For instance, early on in the writing process, the speechwriters had Clinton pointing out that “Al Gore got more votes than any Presidential candidate since Ronald Reagan in 1984.” This draft also had President Clinton saying, “there is no dispute over the fact that tens of thousands of Americans cast their ballots in Florida, only to discover that -- for one reason or another -- their votes didn’t count.” But handwritten notes point out that early drafts were “too negative."
The statement that Clinton eventually read struck a more conciliatory tone. “I was proud of both men,” Clinton offered and then thanked Gore for eight years of partnership. “Without his leadership, we could not have made the progress or reached the prosperity we now enjoy and pass on to the next administration,” Clinton said.
Corrected on March 18, 2014: A previous version of this article was missing an image of one of the two statements referenced.