Jewish World Review Nov. 5, 2004 / 21 Mar-Cheshvan, 5765
Grace in concession
http://www.NewsAndOpinion.com | On a chilly December evening nearly four years ago, Al Gore delivered a gracious concession speech — 35 days late, while George W. Bush uncorked a flat, stiff, awkward acceptance address. History did not repeat itself. Bush, standing on a platform at the vast Reagan Building in Washington, looked and sounded like an American statesman.
There’s a certain ripe irony in the setting. The Reagan building, the most expensive federal office building ever constructed, is named after a man who sought to dismantle federal departments and put the clamps on government growth. George W. Bush ought to feel at home in the setting. His chief speechwriter once explained to me in some exasperation, “You need to understand, George W. Bush is not a small-government conservative.” He's right, of course. The president has been a spendthrift. Nevertheless, W is the rightful heir to Reagan in the sense that he proceeds from clear and fixed principles and does not fear the consequences when he stands alone on the global stage.
Bush teared up when he stepped to the podium to the thunderous applause of the crowd. (The building is a vast echo chamber.) He started by saying nice things about John Kerry and reporting “we had a really good phone call.” He also extended best wishes to the Kerry clan.
He also reminded people of why they like him. He talked of being humbled in victory. He mentioned his family: “My family comes first...Laura is the love of my life.” He singled out his siblings and parents. He doffed his cap to Dick Cheney, a man “of wisdom and honor.” In running through the roster of aides and officials, he impishly thanked Karl Rove, “the architect.”
He addressed Kerry voters: “To make this nation stronger and better, I will need your support...I will do all I can do to earn your trust...When we come together and work together, there is no end to the greatness of America.” And then, “a word to the people of Texas.” The speechwriters inserted a little bit of corn pone poetry, but noted that whatever road might stretch before him, “that road will take me home.” In short: a gracious speech, well delivered.
John Edwards introduces John Kerry:
John Edwards has just delivered the most tin-eared concession speech in recent American history. In introducing John Kerry, he described Campaign 2004 as a battle and said of his losing cause, “The battle rages on.” What followed was the usual litany of white-collar populism, the rich man’s promise to bestow upon the poor man the precious gift of pity, publicly expressed. Then came the hammer blow: Edwards promoted guerrilla skirmishing in order to promote the cause of “one America.”
The talk completed Edwards’ journey from promising young star to comely hack. What a waste: Polling throughout the campaign indicated that Edwards was a drag on Kerry — perhaps not enough to cost him the presidency, but enough to deprive him the chance of getting into the Recount Zone.
John Kerry provides an adult role model for John Edwards:
Kerry, in contrast, carried himself with likeable grace. He congratulated the president and noted that the two talked about “the danger of division” and the urgency of “coming together.” He said, “The outcome should be determined by voters, not by a protracted legal process…We cannot win this election.” He described the “privilege and gift” of running, and with real emotion, voice cracking, thanked Americans “from the bottom of my heart.”
Kerry, as I have noted many times, is a nice guy, and one of the enduring mysteries of this (and many other campaigns) is why so many campaign managers consider it necessary to transform good men into raving bundles of savagery and deceit. John Kerry doesn’t do viciousness well. It also becomes apparent as his speech wears on that he ignores the adage that less is more. Nevertheless, good for him. He left the stage a good man and not an embittered fool, as Al Gore (alas) has become.
Here’s the key passage: “In an American election, there are no losers…because the next morning we all wake up, and we’re still Americans.” He also made the obvious point that we need to “pull together for the good of our country…(to) stand together and succeed in Iraq and in the war on terror.”
Unfortunately, he buried the highlight with an avalanche of campaign-trail cant, including the apocryphal Tocquevillian claim that America is great because America is good. Nevertheless, he said the right thing at the right place at the right time. Good for him.