Opinion: A plea for a little compassion
There is no place quieter or more forlorn than the losing candidate’s headquarters the morning after election night. If the phone rings, it’s a good bet that it is either one more unpaid creditor looking for payment or a wrong number. Gone are yesterday’s hopes for the upset win to confound the pollsters and the pundits. If you know or run into any staffer from a losing campaign, take a little extra time to offer her some attention and a little encouragement. Too often, as the wonderful sports novelist John R. Tunis wisely wrote, “Losing is the great American sin.”
After 60 years of hanging around candidates and elections, I have learned that political campaigns do not build character. But campaigns — and especially losing campaigns — do reveal character. Let me give you a couple of examples.
After President George H.W. Bush was denied a second term by the young Democratic governor of Arkansas, Bill Clinton, Bush left the following handwritten note on Inauguration Day, Jan. 20, 1993, for his successor:
“When I walked into this office just now I felt the same sense of wonder and respect that I felt four years ago. I know you will feel that, too.
“I wish you great happiness here. I never felt the loneliness some Presidents have described.
“There will be very tough times, made even more difficult by criticism you may not think is fair. I’m not a very good one to give advice; but just don’t let the critics discourage you or push you off course.
“You will be our President when you read this note. I wish you well. I wish your family well.
“Your success now is our country’s success. I am rooting hard for you.
“Good luck. — George.”
That, dear readers, is class.
After he lost in a landslide to President Ronald Reagan, the Democratic nominee Walter “Fritz” Mondale spoke these words: “Although I would have rather won, tonight we rejoice in our democracy. We rejoice in the freedom of a wonderful people, and we accept their verdict.” Class.
Bob Dole, who was the first to point out that he had lost national races both as President Gerald Ford’s vice presidential running mate in 1976 and as the Republican presidential nominee in 1996, handled his defeat with characteristic humor: “Contrary to reports that I took the loss badly, I want to say that I went home last night and slept like a baby — every two hours I woke up and cried.”
Two months after his crushing defeat at the hands of Reagan, Mondale walked into Washington’s Palm restaurant and ran into his fellow Democrat George McGovern who, 12 years earlier, had been crushed by President Richard Nixon. Mondale asked McGovern: “Tell me, George, when does it stop hurting?” McGovern’s wistful answer: “I’ll let you know, Fritz. … I’ll let you know.”
My favorite concession statement was not delivered by a presidential candidate but by one of American politics’ most delightful personalities, Dick Tuck, who lost in a cliffhanger for a California state Senate seat and was asked for a comment by a Los Angles radio reporter with a microphone in hand who was surprised, if not shocked, when Tuck said: “The people have spoken … the bastards.”
• Mark Shields is a columnist with Creators Syndicate.