Concession speeches, mandates and the post-partisan reach-around

A few nights ago John McCain treated us all to a masterful concession speech. He was gracious, articulate, noble – he said all the right things and struck all the right chords as the nation and his party look toward the future in the wake of an epic statement on the part of the American electorate.

If you’re like me, you’re probably wondering: where the hell was this guy for the last several months?

I always marvel at the civility of concession speeches. Your opponent spends months degrading your character, questioning the legitimacy of your parentage, slandering you, your momma, your horse and everyone you ever passed in the street, fabricating the most staggering and colorful lies imaginable, and then when the votes are in he extends his hand like you’d been trading good-natured barbs over the monthly potluck in the church fellowship hall.

You – the slanderee – then take the opportunity to tell us all what a great guy your opponent is and how goddamned lucky we are to have such a great fucking American in our midst.

This sort of civility is probably preferable to dragging his punk ass into the parking lot and administering the righteous nard-stomping he deserves, I suppose. I mean, sure, it always makes for fun TV when WrestleMania breaks out on the floor of Parliament in Southeast Goatfuckistan, but in the grand scheme of things that’s not how lasting democratic traditions are forged.

Still – you have to be kidding, right?

The candidates may feel bound by a code of etiquette that would chafe the nipples off of Louis Quatorze, but there’s no reason for us to canonize St. McCain just yet. The man ran what was arguably the dirtiest, most hateful campaign in recent presidential history, and while we don’t have much of a record of racist campaigns per se (lacking, as we do, any meaningful history of non-white presidential candidates), his electioneering certainly set a daunting standard for those who will find themselves up against minority candidates in the future.

McCain was not worthy of Obama’s graciousness and his own remarks forged new frontiers in hypocrisy. The fact is that McCain’s carefully crafted and meticulously fluffed image – the hard-charging, America-first, convention-be-damned maverick – was always a fiction. We should not allow our intelligence to be further insulted by suggestions that this now-thoroughly-discredited relic of a dead age has some honorable and critical role to play in helping us dig out of the hole he and his cronies spent the last quarter of a century or more digging us into.

I know America is big on forgiveness – a little too big, for my taste. But in this case, can we at least withhold absolution until he repents? A few pretty words shouldn’t distract us from the fact that, politically speaking, John McCain is holding a blood-soaked chainsaw and standing amidst a pile of body parts.

McCain wasn’t the only dirty campaigner out there, either. Voters in Colorado’s 4th District called home Marilyn Musgrave, one of the vilest weasels to ever slither into DC. Musgrave’s campaign made sure that no lie went untold, and if you want a sense for how appalling her ads were, understand that she lost by 12% in a district that would sooner vote for bin Laden than a Democrat.

Then there’s Elizabeth Dole, who’d better hope that there’s no god. Or that if there is, He’s nothing like the one she professes to believe in. Otherwise, she’s gonna have some ‘splainin’ to do come Judgment Day.

I haven’t checked to see if the Guinness Book tracks world records for bearing false witness, but if they do, Liddy just blowed the former holder’s doors off. She told the citizens of North Carolina that a Sunday School teacher was part of some kind of shadowy conspiracy of godlessness and in doing so depicted a guy who taught college courses in Biblical Studies as one of the cabalists. A note, Liddy – next time you sell your soul, you might make sure you get something more for it than an embarrassing, very public ass-whipping.

I’d like to point out that in this election we saw some prominent cases of dirty tricks not paying off. Obama took the high road and McCain took the sewage ditch running alongside the low road, and for once the nobler route paid off. But I’m not so stupid as to expect those gearing up for 2010 to conclude that filthy campaigning doesn’t pay. More likely they’ll convince themselves that McCain (and Musgrave and Dole and all the other 2008 losers) simply didn’t play dirty enough.

Which brings me to Obama’s desire to forge a new, post-partisan spirit of political togetherness. I respect his sense that America has been too divided – my colleague Dr. Slammy has carped on this subject a time or two, in fact – but I think he needs to carefully consider the specific character of the unity we’re pursuing. For starters, I think Sen. Obama needs to step away from the nation’s euphoric post-election fuzzies and understand that he has a mandate here.

You’ll recall that in 2004 George Bush banked in a half-courter at the buzzer and interpreted the “lowest electoral vote count for an incumbent president’s re-election since 1916” as some kind of big honking license to do what the fuck ever he felt like doing. (And by all means, click that link and draw your own conclusions about the math skills of America’s media hacks.) If 286 electoral votes is a mandate, then what happened Tuesday must be approaching King-Hell Emperor of the Whole Damned World territory.

Instead, we’re hearing a lot of happy talk about reaching across the aisle, something that seems likely to benefit the very elements that America so soundly rejected at the polls. Sen. Obama, I’d advise you, were I one of your advisors, to remember what you have seen and heard from across the aisle over the last few months. Specifically:

  • You’re not an American.
  • You’re a terrorist.
  • So is your wife.
  • Your preacher hates America.
  • And by the way, since you’re a Muslim he must not be your real preacher.
  • You launched your campaign in the living room of a known terrorist.
  • Shall I continue?

You want to be a uniter (not a divider), but let’s be clear about unity. Unity is, in and of itself, of limited value. Lemmings are marvelously unified as they run over the cliff, and if I recall correctly, Congress was strikingly unified in supporting Bush’s invasion of Iraq.

So make sure that you’re inviting the good folks on the other side of the aisle to your party – our party. They’re already looking for ways of kneecapping you and playing your inexperience to their advantage. Your good faith commitment to bipartisanship, if you lose sight of who elected you and why, may lead to some huge Republican celebrations four years from now.

So, please – let’s be careful that in reaching across the aisle you don’t get caught up in a grand reach-around, okay?

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10 thoughts on “Concession speeches, mandates and the post-partisan reach-around”

  1. No shit! I hated that guy, he was a complete jerk, and then he said, (rough quote) “no ma’am, he is not an arab, he is a good family man that I happen to disagree with on a number of subjects”. And I liked that guy – it surprised me a lot – that I really liked that guy. I wasn’t prepared for that, because I couldn’t stand the crap that he and Sarah Stupid had been excreting. I tried to reconcile that dichotomy with-in myself and I couldn’t, but I thanked God that that was the only time he let that guy out for the public to see, so that Obama could go on to win. But when I think about it now, I realize that that nastiness is what they respond to. That the nice, good, decent guy isn’t what they want. They want the ugliness, the hate, and if he had been the good guy they would have burned him at the stake. Either way he couldn’t have won.

  2. I agree with Chuck. As a former Republican, now independant, I like to think those like me had a little to do with his election as well, not just those entrenched on the left.

    Politics is played by campaign managers and party hacks (on both sides). Obama won because he did it differently. I believe McCain lost so badly because he abandoned who he was and let the party hacks run his operation.
    The phrase Obabm uses that I like so much is when he says he will “seek to understand and listen to the other side when they disagree”. That’s what we need, not distrust and animosity.

  3. Frankly, I’m glad the election is over. Although I may profoundly disagree with Obama, he won the election fairly and squarely, and I will support him as my president. The voice of the people have been heard, and although I might not like it, that is my problem.

    Jeff

  4. mccain played the game the way he did because neither he nor his campaign advisors could think of any legitimate reason why mccain should in fact be elected.

    when you and your party have no policies which can be spoken aloud in public, you know there is a serious problem.

    i don’t even want to think where we would be right now, today, with mccain’s transition team on the job. we dodged a bullet of epic proportions on tuesday last.

  5. In other news, word from the WaPo is that the incoming administration already has a list of 200 executive orders signed by Bush that will be overturned…and it looks like they’re ready enough so that a good chunk of it will be accomplished by the first of February.

    These include funding for stem cell research, lifting the silly gag orders tied to abortion and US aid, and – most significantly – giving California (and other states that wish to exercise their rights) the ability to pass its own emissions standards.

    It may also include following through with the EPA’s recommendation from last December and stating that carbon dioxide emissions endanger human welfare.

    It appears that decisions to revoke/rewrite executive orders signed by Bush will be based first and foremost on those that were signed for “overtly political reasons”.

    Seems that the president elect is, in fact, quite ready to lead from day one.

  6. McCain really has two public personas. The first, “McCain at Play,” is engaging and humorous. I watched that Al Smith dinner days after the debate and I thought “where was this McCain” on the campaign trail? The second, “McCain at Work,” is what we did saw during the campaign. Numerous senators have spoken about McCain’s volatile temper and his aides have talked about how McCain takes this confrontation personally. That’s what we saw on the trail; the ill at ease, grouchy angry man. Not quite the traits that would serve the country well at this moment.

    What chafes my arse is how the commentators, especially those on the right, point to the financial system collapse as the reason McCain lost. He didn’t lose because Lehmann Brothers went bankrupt. He lost because of how he responded during this collapse. Remember, he was up in the polls by several points after the GOP convention. McCain’s declared campaign “suspension” was the biggest “WTF?!?” moment I can recall in any presidential campaign in my lifetime. His debate performances were terrible. Had he shown even an adequate response to these events, he may have remained competitive. That, though, would have been unlikely because his first big campaign decision was to bring Palin aboard. She alone would have ultimately cost McCain the election.

  7. Obama has an Electoral College mandate. Almost half the country still voted against him. He only received around three million more votes than Bush in 2004.

  8. Steve, a mandate is all perception anyway. If the decisive Electoral College victory is perceived as a mandate by enough people, then Barack has a mandate. Far more people could tell you the total electoral count for Obama and McCain than could tell you the actual vote totals or vote differential. The networks scored the election based on electoral votes and everyone has the red state / blue state map lasered into their minds. Lots of blue states, big electoral vote margin. If it walks like a mandate and quacks like a mandate…

    The real mandate comes after the election. If Obama can bring some moderate Republicans aboard and if Obama can show some incremental progress, he will grow a mandate from the people to continue his policies.

  9. Respectfully (and in jest), I disagree. A mandate is when, in a hypothetical battle royale between your voters and your competitor’s, your superiority of numbers is clear enough that no strategic use of terrain or trickery will snatch victory from you.

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