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Five Lessons in Democracy

At last night's debate, and throughout the prior week, Donald Trump suggested that he would not accept the results of the upcoming election--that is I presume assuming that Hillary Clinton wins and he loses.  I have often believed, and taught, that the greatest lessons in our American democracy can be discovered in the concession speeches of those who lose.  They speak about the values we hold dear.  The victor speaks about grand promises, many of which go unfulfilled.  The losing candidate leans on the values that hold us together.

And so in order to restore my faith in American democracy I reread those concession speeches--at least as far back as the 1996 election.  Here are the highlights, with some of my own commentary and of course rankings.

5. Bob Dole said in 1996:
Let me say that I talked to President Clinton. We had a good visit. I congratulated him.  I have said repeatedly in this campaign that the president was my opponent not my enemy. And I wish him well and I pledge my support in whatever advances the cause of a better America, because that's what the race was about in the first place, a better America as we go into the next century.
4. Mitt Romney said in 2012:
And we look to Democrats and Republicans in government at all levels to put the people before the politics.
I believe in America. I believe in the people of America.
And I ran for office because I'm concerned about America. This election is over, but our principles endure. I believe that the principles upon which this nation was founded are the only sure guide to a resurgent economy and to a new greatness.
A theme emerges.  Partisanship must give way to citizenship.  A basic tenet of our democracy is that the results of the election are accepted by the defeated.  That is how the country moves forward--even after bitter debates and divisive campaigns.

3. John Kerry said in 2004: 
But in an American election, there are no losers. Because whether or not our candidates are successful, the next morning, we all wake up as Americans. And that - that is the greatest privilege and the most remarkable good fortune that can come to us on earth.
With that gift also comes obligation. We are required now to work together for the good of our country. In the days ahead, we must find common cause. We must join in common effort without remorse or recrimination, without anger or rancor. America is in need of unity and longing for a larger measure of compassion.
I hope President Bush will advance those values in the coming years.
I pledge to do my part to try to bridge the partisan divide. I know this is a difficult time for my supporters. But I ask them - all of you - to join me in doing that.
2. Al Gore said in 2000:
Almost a century and a half ago, Senator Stephen Douglas told Abraham Lincoln, who had just defeated him for the presidency, ''Partisan feeling must yield to patriotism. I'm with you, Mr. President, and God bless you.'' Well, in that same spirit, I say to President-elect Bush that what remains of partisan rancor must now be put aside, and may God bless his stewardship of this country.
Neither he nor I anticipated this long and difficult road. Certainly neither of us wanted it to happen. Yet it came, and now it has ended, resolved, as it must be resolved, through the honored institutions of our democracy.
One can probably argue, as Michael Moore undoubtedly has, that there were irregularities in how Florida conducted its recount of the ballots, but Al Gore chose the good of the country and faith in our nation's institutions over winning.

And the top concession speech of the past five elections goes to:
1. John McCain, who said in 2008:
I urge all Americans who supported me to join me in not just congratulating him, but offering our next president our goodwill and earnest effort to find ways to come together, to find the necessary compromises, to bridge our differences and help restore our prosperity, defend our security in a dangerous world, and leave our children and grandchildren a stronger, better country than we inherited.
Whatever our differences, we are fellow Americans. And please believe me when I say no association has ever meant more to me than that.
It is natural tonight to feel some disappointment, but tomorrow we must move beyond it and work together to get our country moving again. We fought — we fought as hard as we could.
And though we fell short, the failure is mine, not yours.
Tonight — tonight, more than any night, I hold in my heart nothing but love for this country and for all its citizens, whether they supported me or Senator Obama, I wish Godspeed to the man who was my former opponent and will be my president.
I still recall how John McCain hushed and castigated those who booed the mention of Barack Obama's name.  He understood what it means to serve America.

I continue to find great inspiration in these words.  Al Gore reminded us to have faith in this country's institutions in particular the Supreme Court.  John McCain taught us that no matter one's party affiliation or ideology the winner of the November election is our president.

Can our faith be restored?  I keep reading.  I remind myself of recent history.

I am reminded that more is learned about a person's character, and the values they most cherish, in what might have seemed to be their lowest moments, when they faced failure.

And so for good measure, reread Hillary Clinton's concession to Barack Obama after the hard fought 2008 Democratic primary.  She believed the nomination was hers.  She appeared to think that it was due to her.  Listen to how she deals with failure.

Hillary Clinton said the following when she lost the Democratic nomination:
I entered this race because I have an old-fashioned conviction that public service is about helping people solve their problems and live their dreams. I've had every opportunity and blessing in my own life, and I want the same for all Americans.
And until that day comes, you'll always find me on the front lines of democracy, fighting for the future.
The way to continue our fight now, to accomplish the goals for which we stand is to take our energy, our passion, our strength, and do all we can to help elect Barack Obama, the next president of the United States.
Today, as I suspend my campaign, I congratulate him on the victory he has won and the extraordinary race he has run. I endorse him and throw my full support behind him.
Of course one can argue that she had no other choice.  She is a politician and she wished to remain in politics.  And yet we find again and again, most especially in the midst of defeat, reminders of what is ennobling about our democracy and its institutions.  It sure can be a messy process getting to November 8th, but we must forever hold on to these values.

It really is supposed to be about the country.  Whoever wins the election is who the electorate feels is best suited to lead our nation for the next four years.  That is why we vote.  And that is why we argue passionately about the candidates up until that day.  That is also why come January 20th we must rise up--together, at least that is what we are called to do--and offer praise to the 45th president of the United States.

I still believe in America.  I continue to believe.