Election night belongs to the winner. Supporters eagerly await the president-elect’s first remarks. But the speech that most confirms the strength of U.S. democracy actually belongs to the loser.
In accepting defeat, the runner-up publicly pledges in a concession speech to support the new president and acknowledges the legitimacy of the election.
Here are a few second-placers who rose to the occasion for the sake of their country. (Each video excerpt is about 40 seconds in length.)
John McCain, 2008
In his speech, the senator from Arizona acknowledged the significance of Barack Obama’s victory, which put the first African American in the White House. McCain also said, “These are difficult times for our country, and I pledge to him tonight to do all in my power to help him lead us through the many challenges we face.”
Al Gore Jr., 2000
Gore’s concession speech was actually delivered 36 days after Election Day because of a razor-close vote in the decisive state of Florida. It took that long for a U.S. Supreme Court ruling over disputed Florida ballots to ensure the victory of Texas Governor George W. Bush. Gore said, “This is America, and we put country before party. We will stand together behind our new president.”
George H.W. Bush, 1992
Bush struck a positive tone in his speech conceding to Arkansas Governor Bill Clinton. Bush, who is among just a handful of incumbent U.S. presidents who lost in re-election bids, said, “There is important work to be done, and America must always come first. So we will get behind this new president and wish him well.”
The people have spoken
As Senator McCain said just recently: “I didn’t like the outcome of the 2008 election. But I had a duty to concede. A concession isn’t just an act of graciousness. It is an act of respect for the will of the American people, an act that is every American leader’s first responsibility.”