Given the time and money that went into the recent elections, it seems there ought to be a final word. A summing up. A few words to put a period on the whole business. Something, somewhere. From somebody. There was plenty of analysis – not quite “instant,” but close enough. The television people who had been explaining to us how and why the various races were going to be nail-biters and come right down to the end and finish so close you couldn’t fit a Kleenex between them … well, those same people shifted effortlessly into explaining to us why those very elections concluded in blowout victories for this or that Republican candidate.
You wonder how they could do that. Hold two antithetical thoughts in mind almost simultaneously. If you go by what F. Scott Fitzgerald had to say, then plainly just about every on-air television news personality owns an almost “first class intelligence.” And good teeth.
But a month from now, nobody will remember anything any of them said. If, that is, anyone remembers, even now, anything any of them said.
The candidates had opportunities. Especially the losers. A winner gets his moment to speak his piece but he is restrained by obligations to his supporters and the future. He has to be careful. The loser is suddenly free from the sort of constraints that have bound him through the doomed campaign. He doesn’t have to call someone he despises, “my good friend.” He isn’t obliged to sing praises to the spirit of the people, more than half of whom have just stuck a collective finger in his eye. He can, if he wants (and especially if he doesn’t plan on running again) say what is in his heart. He can use this speaking opportunity to lance the boil and let the rancor and resentments flow. He can be like Nixon at his “last press conference,” when he promised that we “wouldn’t have Nixon to kick around any more.”
Turned out this wasn’t true. Evidently, in politics, even a nasty kiss-off isn’t forever.
We got a little of that in this election. Alison Lundergan Grimes of Kentucky was beaten and beaten badly. The networks called her a loser almost before the polls closed and she plainly was not accustomed to that kind of rejection. So she came out, in time, and gave an angry concession speech in which she managed not a single phrase that could be called “gracious” or “conciliatory.” She was so angry and abrupt that even Al Sharpton, who knows a little something about orating out of hostility, took notice.
“It wasn’t a concession speech. Usually, you concede,” Sharpton said, “You can represent what you represent. But you respect the winner, and you pledge to move on together.”
Lectured on political civility by Al Sharpton. The mind reels.
None of the winners from the losing side came out with anything especially memorable. None chose to quote from Yeats’ To a Friend Whose Work Has Come to Nothing.
… turn away
And like a laughing string
Whereon mad fingers play
Amid a place of stone,
Be secret and exult,
Because of all things known
That is most difficult.
It is doubtful that anyone expected much from Harry Reid, who doesn’t do eloquence. The best he could manage was a statement that went
“I’d like to congratulate Senator McConnell, who will be the new Senate Majority Leader. The message from voters is clear: They want us to work together. I look forward to working with Senator McConnell to get things done for the middle class.”
Chokes you right up, doesn’t it?
Nancy Pelosi was, evidently, too busy to find something public to say. She was trying to keep her job; appealing to the remaining Democratic members of the House. Her inspirational call to arms was, “I know where the money is, and I know where to get it.”
The president, one thought, would do better. He had to. Because he is the president. He would have to say something and he is proud of his rhetorical skills. He has speechwriters who could give him some ideas. He could take a page from Adlai Stevenson, another loser from Illinois. Maybe he would crib a page from Lincoln. Stevenson had done so when, after losing one of those elections to Eisenhower, he used Lincoln’s famous line about being like the boy who had stubbed his toe and said, “he was too old to cry, but it hurt too much to laugh.”
Or, he could have reached higher, taking inspiration from Stevenson when he said, after losing to Eisenhower in 1952, “I urge you all to give General Eisenhower the support he will need to carry out the great tasks that lie before him. I pledge him mine. We vote as many, but we pray as one.”