I’m not going to tell you (yet) who said this in a concession speech late Tuesday because I want you to ask yourself a question: Isn’t this what losing is meant to sound like?
“We have too much hate. We have too much anger. There’s way too much fear. There’s way too much division. And that we need more love. We need more compassion. We need more concern for each other. It’s important things. We need forgiveness. We need grace. We need reconciliation. We do have to leave the age of stupidity behind us. And I have a privilege right now … to concede this race … because the way this country operates is that, when you lose an election, you concede and you respect the will of the people.”
I have a hunch most of us answered my question with a “yes,” regardless of our party affiliation. Now, I’ll tell you that the speech came from Democratic congressman Tim Ryan, speaking soon after – as in moments – the networks called his tight race for Ohio Senate against Republican challenger J.D. Vance.
Would you have answered differently if you knew the speaker or his party?
‘When you lose, you concede’
I grew up being told how you lose is much more important than how you win. My parents impressed upon me that this included games like Monopoly, high school swim meets and my run for student body president in junior high where I lost big time. My 16-year-old ego was bruised after my “stinging” electoral loss, but that didn’t matter to my dad, who told me, “When you lose, you concede.” (With the corollary, “When you win, be gracious.”)
Doesn’t that seem like common sense? Or just the right thing to do? Or, how democracy must work to survive.
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But in this post-2020 era of election deniers inspired by former President Donald Trump, concession speeches like Ryan’s feel rare and newsworthy. Although there’s no constitutional or legal requirement to concede, it has become tradition. All losing presidential candidates since 1896 have done so – until Trump.
Twelve of 19 GOP candidates this fall refused to tell The Washington Post whether they would accept the election results.
Focus on unity, not division
Ryan wasn’t the only politician to concede Tuesday night with grace. Up in New Hampshire, political reporter Steven Porter took note of two Republican challengers who lost their races. He quickly filed a news report on his website, Granite Memo, praising Don Bolduc and Karoline Leavitt for their gracious concession speeches: “They didn’t drag their feet. They didn’t cite conspiracies. They didn’t stoke doubts any further.”
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Porter is right in calling this “classic electoral etiquette,” although I’d take it a step higher, calling it “old-fashioned” or “out of date” – and fundamental to our country.
Each of these candidates also focused more on what unites us than divides us. Ryan reminded his audience, “This is a country built on freedom,” referring specifically to freedom of speech and freedom of the press, unlike China and Russia where “they have ethnic cleansing (and) put their political opponents in prison.”
He’s right, of course. We have more in common than we let ourselves see.
Back in New Hampshire, incumbent Sen. Maggie Hassan, the Democrat who beat Bolduc, thanked her opponent for a race well run, only to hear a chorus of boos from her own supporters. She told the crowd, “No, No!” and then praised Bolduc for his military service, and noted that while they have differing views, “we share love of country.”
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Set an example on how to lose
For several years now, the organization More In Common has focused its research on just that, concluding that we’re united in more ways than we might imagine. The nonprofit group says its “mission is to understand the forces driving us apart, to find common ground and help to bring people together to tackle our shared challenges.” Amen.
Last month, More in Common’s polling concluded that, regardless of affiliation, Americans have “a desire for more moderate candidates” from both political parties.
Earlier this year, a different More in Common survey revealed that “most Americans highly value (the) civil rights movement (but) lack robust knowledge and shared memories of the era,” a clarion call for more education – a notion supported by an overwhelming majority, 77%, of respondents.
Meanwhile, more than three-quarters said the civil rights movement “advanced the values of freedom and equality” and saw it as an “important example of Americans exercising their right to protest.”
I’m hoping Ryan’s concession speech in Ohio and those of Dr. Mehmet Oz in Pennsylvania and Tudor Dixon in Michigan set examples for losers everywhere, making them winners in my book – and much needed proponents for democracy.
Steven Petrow, a writer on civility and manners and a member of USA TODAY’s Board of Contributors, is the author of five etiquette books, including “Stupid Things I Won’t Do When I Get Old.” Follow him on Twitter: @stevenpetrow
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Story Credit: usatoday.com