Election night is bigger than the Super Bowl and the World Series . . . maybe even if you combined them. It’s bigger because we are all apart of it. We are not spectators cheering a first down or a home run. If we voted, we are participants.
1952 was the first time that a network, CBS, used a computer to predict that Eisenhower was the winner. What followed was that his opponent Governor Adlai Stevenson who gave the first nationally televised concession speech.
Our country is benchmarked by occasions for the spoken word. Words are important at funerals and weddings, to deliver good news and bad news. Words were important when FDR proclaimed December 7, 1941 a date which will live in infamy. Words were important when Walter Cronkite told us of JFK’s death, verbally conveying our sense of shock and the struggle for composure.
Perhaps the most important speech in a democracy is the concession speech. As Stevenson said in his concession, “It is traditionally American to fight hard before an election. It is equally traditional to close ranks as soon as the people have spoken.”
As Sen. John McCain said in 2008: “Senator Obama and I have had, and argued, our differences, and he has prevailed.”
And President George H.W. Bush said, after losing to Arkansas Governor Bill Clinton, “We have fought the good fight.”
And Vice President Richard Nixon, after Massachusetts Senator John F. Kennedy was named the winner, said, “Once the decision is made, we unite behind the man who was elected.”
A peaceful transition or transfer of power is a concept important to our democratic government. The concession speech is the outward verbal evidence of this transition. We don’t see the actual transfer of desk contents or computer files. What we see and hear is the concession speech that introduces this peaceful transition.
Will we hear a concession speech? When?