Jewish World Review May 22, 2014 / 22 Iyar, 5774
The morning after in Arkansas
By Paul Greenberg
Dawn doesn't break the morning after an election in
Bless their disappointed hearts, the losers are always so surprised by their political demise. They can't help it. Everybody they talked to assured them, friend and stranger alike, that they were sure to win. Nobody turned down a push card, everybody smiled back. That's the South. Or anywhere decent. And now, in the first tenuous glow of day, there is the newspaper at their doorstep -- or on their tablet these days -- saying they've lost. There must be some mistake.
Like an old boy after a bender, dawn opens just one eye at first to keep the glare to a minimum as it peeks out from under the cover of night, hesitant to assess the damage left behind by the day before. Indeed, by the whole campaign before. Dawn hesitates. As if not wanting to see the shambles strewn in every direction.
I know how dawn feels. The light hurts. The party's over, and the mess will have to be cleaned up. The dull, slogging, mundane world is back. The election didn't change everything after all. No wonder dawn would really rather stay in bed. Dawn doesn't dawn today so much as tremble tenuously on the edge of day. Yesterday seems so long ago.
Dawn stirs but doesn't fully wake, shuddering at the prospect of having to file the after-action report on this campaign. How is The Candidate going to put the worst of it in the best light? Goodness, where did all the balloons and cheers go? The bumper stickers lie crumpled on the floor, the signs and banners hang limp from the ceiling. Somebody needs to take them down before they depress even more.
Nothing remains of all the razzmatazz of the campaign. It's turned into the flotsam and jetsam of a victory party that, 'long about midnight, or even before, had turned into a wake.
The bright smiles of the winners on the front page are only salt on the loser's wounds. He's really got to get a grip. And he does. The sun's going to come up after all. It's not the end of the world, just of an election campaign that will fade away like all the ones before it. Cheer up, losers. If fame is fleeting, so is disappointment. Somebody should have told them that.
The real test of the candidates isn't how they respond to victory but to defeat. Which may explain why the concession speeches are the high point of election night, the real test of a candidate's mettle. Anybody can deliver a victory speech, it's the concessions that are the real challenge. When made with grace and even eloquence, they make defeat, indeed the whole losing campaign, worthwhile. Who ever learned anything from victory? Who has not learned from defeat?
Me, I don't stay up for the victory speeches. Just for the concessions. They're the real test of character and courage, of grace under pressure.
For election-night style, few American politicians have ever matched
Some of us wait and watch for those bright, redeeming moments of simple honor that redeem even the dingiest campaign. That's when dawn breaks through. And we realize all the cheap politicking was worth it -- just for one glimpse of splendor. How simple decency shines after we'd lost sight of it in all the campaign's mud and calculation. Perspective is restored. The polls and pols, the base appeals and high pretensions, no longer matter; human dignity always will. Elections come and go, but words endure. Orwell and Mencken wrote political essays that are still read, long after the issues they wrote about have been forgotten.
A good word, a decent gesture, transforms defeat in an election into victory in life. And in the no longer hesitant dawn, hope rises, fluttering its wings like a lark, heading up and up toward the sun. Caught up in the long night with all its fireworks and fakeries, we'd forgotten the beauty of the stars high above, of being part of a people that is its own master and, for good or ill, makes it own decisions. Ballot by ballot.
Every weekday JewishWorldReview.com publishes what many in in the media and Washington consider "must-reading". Sign up for the daily JWR update. It's free. Just click here.
Paul Greenberg is the Pulitzer prize-winning editorial page editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.
© 2014 TRIBUNE CONTENT AGENCY, LLC.