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Explicating the Concession Speech


I went to bed after John McCain’s exceptionally gracious, unusually eloquent concession speech, not having much interest in watching jubilant crowds celebrating their win. That speech touched all the grace notes, and went the extra mile in speaking about the wonders of a country that elected it’s first black leader, just so many years after all those bad things that used to happen to African Americans, on the grounds of race. Was it me, or was the Senator that much more eloquent about the silver linings of his opponent’s win than about any other damn thing during this entire two year election cycle? (Excepting, of course, the fact that all God’s children should be citizens soon, a subject which brings out in him what can only be described as religious certainty. And, maybe, the external threats to this country that our new president has not fully acknowledged.)

The discussion of race, and his visible empathy regarding the special pride that African-Americans must have in this victory today, occupied fully one-third of the speech, apart from the usual — actually unusually profuse — promises of fealty and being the loyal opposition. Perhaps it is his generation — which really did see a greater contrast between before civil rights and after than those of us who are younger. Perhaps John McCain has reached a state of personal grace that is commendable in a man, and intolerable in a party leader, wherein he sees some greater good or even some larger plan in his adversary’s victory. Not that he ever was a party leader — nor was he suited to be. All of his most compelling campaign promises had to do with fighting against a broken, bloated  system at home, and enemies abroad; not a bad thing in itself for the few remaining small government acolytes, but not much of a positive agenda either.

The Fox News reporter who had covered the campaign, whose name escapes me, reported, forthrightly, that some McCain aides had felt for a while that their candidate had had a deep reluctance to impede the election of the nation’s first African American president. That he had, perhaps, pulled punches and failed to strike as hard as necessary to win this thing, for that greater good. The report was infuriating, since more depended on the election than changing the race dynamic — which, it must be said, has been changed for some time, and did not require this particular symbol to validate it. To be sure, McCain must have known that his campaign was losing — and did not want to swing blindly. And maybe he didn’t like being called “erratic,” “desperate”, and a “racist” every time the inconvenient facts of Barack Obama’s short past came up for discussion.

But all Republicans who watched their candidate these past few months, must have been struck, as I have been, by the sense that he was holding back. I wondered, too often, how it could be that no one at the campaign could frame and muster the arguments that were clear to all conservative writers here and at the other publications and blogs that share our view. When the arguments were made, they were too little, too late, and garbled enough to drain their force. The campaign had it’s (very serious) flaws, but it seems that the reluctance to aim and shoot cleanly, was due to the candidate’s internal conflict here. Contrast that with the campaign style of the Vice Presidential candidate, who seemed quite interested in winning, and was willing to call things by name to make the case against the opposition.

Now that Barack Obama is our president, because a majority of Americans of all races voted for to elect him, I hope our leaders will feel free to treat him no differently than any other head of the opposition party. That is what being post-racial means. It’s time. Certainly we have had no problem doing that with the women who rise to power.


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