Try­ing to be gra­cious on a bit­ter night

The Washington Times Weekly - - Commentary -

No sad-sack can­di­date gets out of bed on Elec­tion Day de­cid­ing what to say in a con­ces­sion speech. There’s al­ways Harry S. Tru­man’s mir­a­cle of 1948 to in­spire a heart­felt prayer for a mir­a­cle. But late on elec­tion night, when all hope has van­ished on a cloud of gloom, a loser has to step up to the cam­eras and say some­thing nice about some­one he, at the mo­ment, purely de­spises.

Some losers take con­trol of their emo­tions and do it bet­ter than oth­ers. If there’s a prize for the most daz­zling fail­ure to show a lit­tle hu­mil­ity in the face of mor­ti­fi­ca­tion, Ali­son Lun­der­gan Grimes, beaten by Mitch McCon­nell in Ken­tucky by 16 points, wins it in a walk this year. Her re­marks ri­val those of Richard Nixon’s fa­mous farewell to re­porters the morn­ing after he failed to get elected gov­er­nor of Cal­i­for­nia: “You don’t have Nixon to kick around any more.” (Some farewell it turned out to be.)

Mzz Grimes man­aged to talk for fully five min­utes, de­fi­ance and rude­ness in her voice, with never a men­tion of Mr. McCon­nell, the sur­vivor and soon to be the majority leader of the U.S. Se­nate. No con­grat­u­la­tions, no com­pli­ments, not even a tip of her bon­net to the peo­ple of Ken­tucky. What her dis­ap­pointed sup­port­ers got was a full-throated stump speech, a lugubri­ous recita­tion of “the jour­ney of my cam­paign,” of her brav­ery for tak­ing it and a prom­ise to keep her cam­paign ap­pa­ra­tus in­tact. She clearly had not been told the jour­ney was over.

She threw her lit­tle tantrum when she was dog-tired, weary of end­less days and sleep­less nights, of too many cheese­burg­ers and bad cof­fee taken on the run, but she was a loser, and she was not pre­pared to deal with it. In­stead, she got cen­sure from un­ex­pected Demo­cratic places, tips on cam­paign eti­quette from the master of mean pul­pit in­vec­tive, the Rev. Al Sharp­ton. She should have been “gra­cious,” the Rev told her.

Gra­cious­ness in de­feat is dif­fi­cult, and gra­cious peo­ple do it best. The model con­tin­ues to be Adlai Steven­son’s con­ces­sion to Dwight D. Eisen­hower in 1952: “I urge you all to give Gen­eral Eisen­hower the support he will need to carry out the great tasks that lie be­fore him. I pledge him mine. We vote as many, but we pray as one.” Classy stuff. Bob Dole, was sim­i­larly classy con­ced­ing to Bill Clin­ton in 1996, say­ing that Bubba was “my op­po­nent and not my en­emy.” Mr. Dole, like many elec­tion night losers, found it hard to be gra­cious when he had to speak over the rau­cous noise of sup­port­ers, many well lu­bri­cated, all angry and some de­fi­ant in de­feat. The se­na­tor, still a pow­er­ful in­flu­ence in the Se­nate, fi­nally stopped in mid­sen­tence and told them: “You’re not go­ing to get that tax cut if you don’t be quiet.”

Some­times such a gen­tle quip, a flash of anger aimed at him­self, makes a loser’s con­ces­sion mem­o­rable. Dan Quayle, con­ced­ing that he would no longer be vice pres­i­dent in the wake of the Clin­ton-Gore wave in 1992, ob­served that “if [Mr. Clin­ton] runs the coun­try as well as he ran his cam­paign, we will be all right.” Mr. Gore con­ceded to George W. Bush twice, with­draw­ing his first con­ces­sion as pre­ma­ture when hang­ing chads be­gan flut­ter­ing over Florida. Weeks later, when the end­less count­ing was fi­nally over, he called the new pres­i­den­t­elect again. “I con­grat­u­lated him on be­com­ing the 43d pres­i­dent of the United States,” he said, “and I promised him that I wouldn’t call him back this time.”

There’s no short­age of con­grat­u­la­tions on Capi­tol Hill this morn­ing, many of them by Repub­li­cans to Repub­li­cans. Self-con­grat­u­la­tions can be tacky, but no one doubts their sin­cer­ity. Rep. Greg Walden of Ore­gon, the chair­man of the Na­tional Repub­li­can Con­gres­sional Com­mit­tee, says the Repub­li­cans may have built “a hun­dredyear majority in the House.” It’s true that noth­ing suc­ceeds like suc­cess, but it’s equally true that noth­ing re­cedes like suc­cess. It’s a cau­tion good to keep in mind, as any num­ber of Tuesdaynig­ht losers could tell you.

Nev­er­the­less, it’s a re­mark­able mo­ment in the na­tion’s pol­i­tics. There were few Repub­li­can con­ces­sions needed, gra­cious or not. The sin­cer­est con­ces­sion ever spo­ken was from the heart of Davy Crock­ett, who was elected to Congress from Ten­nessee almost by ac­cla­ma­tion and then de­feated for a sec­ond term. The fickle rule, after all.

Davy, who would soon leave Ten­nessee to die at the Alamo, of­fered the brief con­ces­sion speech that ev­ery loser longs to give. “The peo­ple have spo­ken,” he said, “and I’m go­ing to Texas. The rest of you can go to hell.” Wes­ley Pru­den is ed­i­tor emer­i­tus of The Wash­ing­ton Times.

Davy Crock­ett

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