The Victory and Concession Speeches (and Related Thoughts)

Ken AshfordElection 20081 Comment

PaHWAHHO89u04r0aDCnOtEdQ_500 I'm sure I'm not the only person who kind of tilted his head a little last night, when John McCain said this:

This is an historic election, and I recognize the special significance it has for African-Americans and for the special pride that must be theirs tonight.

The immediate question that came to my mind is: "Why can't *I*, as a white American, feel a 'special pride' that an African-American was elected President?"

Now, McCain's comment wasn't racist.  It wasn't mean.  It wasn't intentionally divisive.  It just shows where he and so many of his followers are coming from.

Or, as Obama would say, he "just doesn't 'get it'."

The sad undercurrent beneath McCain's comment is that there is an "us" and a "them"  It's like, there's the black "team" and the white "team".  And Obama's victory (implies McCain) has "special" significance only for the black team.

That's just so early 20th century, and I don't subscribe to it.

A 1960s white civil rights worker once told a news reporter that, in his belief, his rights and freedoms as an American were very much tied to those of every other man.  Martin Luther King, in his speeches and writing, said the same thing.  Essentially, when you diminish one race, you diminish all of them.

The 14th Amendment, the Civil Rights Acts of the 1960s, and so on were not victories for the "black team".  In fact, if you look at the text of those statutes, it makes no specific mention of any particular race.  They were, literally, victories for ALL races.

Yes, it's true: for the first time in history, black parents can look at their children and honestly say, "In America, a child can grow up to be anything they want." 

However, my point is, this is the first time parents of any color can say those words to their children.

So Obama's election wasn't a "special" victory FOR any particular race; it was a special victory because it TRANSCENDED race.  And that's something that everyone of every race can take a "special pride" in.


Turning to Obama's victory speech, it was just as I expected: humble, and a call to arms.  No, we're done yet, he spoke.  And he's right.

What struck me in particular was his attempt to transcend color.  But not the colors of black and white so much as the colors of red and blue.

He reminded us that we are not a nation of "red states and blue states", but the "United States".  He used that same line in his 2004 speech to the Democratic National Convention.  And the fact that he was still on that same message warmed me.

Specifically, Obama's consistancy throughout the campaign warms me.  He started this campaign with promises of being non-devisive.  At that time, many — including me — despaired.  We remembered all too well how John Kerry "took the high road" and didn't counter the punches that Bush threw at him.  "Grow a pair", we pleaded to John.  He didn't; he lost.

Obama got the same advice from pundits, and probably from those within his campaign.  But he didn't take the bait.  When McCain, Palin, and their surrogates were coming at Obama with ridiculous charges and name-calling ("socialist", "terrorist-lover", etc.), you didn't see Obama or his surrogates calling McCain similar names.  They stayed on message, stayed the high road, and countered the attacks with a dismissive: "Yeah, whatever.  Here's what I'm going to do for the country…."

It's was a very disciplined and positive campaign, so much so that it not only defeated McCain, but it may have defeated, permenantly, the Rovian tactics of negative campaigning and mudslinging. 

That sort of positive discipline not only benefitted Obama, but also downticket races as well.  For example, Liddy Dole actually hurt herself with the "Hagen/atheism" attack.  Mudslinging LOST this year, big time, and that bodes well for future elections.

Whether Obama can govern with such discipline and positivity remains to be seen.  But I think he can.  At another point in his victory speech last night, Obama addressed those "whose support I have not yet won".  He told those people that he will listen to them, and be their President as well. 

That's pretty magnanimous.  After all, Bush, Cheney, and their supporters have been calling people like Obama and me "anti-American" for 8 years.  There have been members of the Bush Administration who have admitted that they never felt the need to govern all the people.  The mindset was "WE Republicans won; YOU guys lost; WE get to do what we want".  And as a result, I never felt that Bush was MY President (as I did with, say, Reagan, although I never voted for him either).  My government rejected ME these past eight years, and that pissed me off.

Now, I'm quite sure Obama is going to go forth with his agenda, and he will face opposition along the way.  But what will be different in an Obama Administration, as opposed to the Bush Administration, is that Obama's detractors will not be attacked at the highest level of government as being "unpatriotic" or "unAmerican".  As Obama himself said last night in his victory speech, that is the politics of "immaturity" and divisiveness, and I'm confident that will finally be put to death too.