Lynn Hummel Column: Two new words in politics: Gracious and cordial
This may not last very long, but it sure feels good right now. After a vicious, brutal election campaign, once the votes were counted there was an outbreak of kindness -- candidates and politicos being gracious to one another.
John McCain started it. I will be quoting heavily in this article, but McCain's good words need to be repeated, and so do the comments that followed. When McCain conceded the election to Obama at just after 10 p.m. (central time) on election night, here are some of the remarks he made:
"My friends, we have come to the end of a long journey. The people have spoken and they have spoken clearly. A little while ago I had the honor of calling Sen. Barack Obama to congratulate him on being elected the next president of the country we both love.
"...His success alone commands my respect, for his ability and perseverance. But that he has managed to do so by inspiring the hopes of so many millions of Americans who once had wrongly believed they had little at stake or little influence in the election of an American president, is something I deeply admire and commend him for achieving.
"Sen. Obama has achieved a great thing for himself and for this country. I applaud him for it. ...I pledge to him tonight to do all in my power to help him lead us through the many challenges we face.
"I urge all Americans who supported me to join in not just congratulating him, but offering the next president our goodwill and earnest effort to find ways to come together, to find the necessary compromises, to bridge our differences and to help restore our prosperity, defend our security in a dangerous world, and leave our children and grandchildren a stronger, better country than we inherited.
"Whatever our differences, we are fellow Americans. Americans never quit, we never surrender."
So spoke John McCain. I don't believe I've ever heard a more gracious statement, a more conciliatory speech in defeat.
And President-elect Obama was equally respectful and gracious in response:
"A little bit earlier this evening I received an extraordinarily gracious call from Sen. McCain.
"Sen. McCain fought long and hard in this campaign. And he's fought longer and harder for the country that he loves. He has endured sacrifices for America that most of us cannot begin to imagine. We are better off for the services rendered by this brave and selfless leader.
"I congratulate him; I congratulate Gov. Palin for all that they've achieved. And I look forward to working with them to renew this nation's promise in the months ahead."
Then Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice, a loyal Republican and supporter of President Bush, issued a statement the following morning, before boarding a plane on a diplomatic mission:
"President-elect Obama was inspirational, and I'm certain he will continue to be. I'm getting to leave for the Middle East, but I did not want this morning to pass without making note of this extraordinary election last night.
"I (also) want to note that Sen. McCain was gracious. He's a great patriot."
That same Wednesday morning following the election, President Bush, who endured heavy criticisms throughout the campaign from Barack Obama, made a statement in the Rose Garden of the White House. He called Obama's win "an impressive victory" and said it represented "strides toward a more perfect union." He called the Obama victory "a triumph of the American story, a testament to hard work, optimism and faith in the enduring promise of our nation. All Americans can be proud of the history that was made yesterday.
"It will be a stirring sight to see President Obama, his wife, Michelle, and their beautiful girls step through the doors of the White House. I know millions of Americans will be overcome with pride at this inspiring moment that so many have waited for, for so long."
Less than a week later, President Bush and Laura graciously welcomed President-elect Obama and Michelle to the White House, where the president and Obama discussed policy in the oval office, and Laura and Michelle did a tour of the living quarters. The press reported that the Bushes were most "cordial" hosts to the Obamas. Bush said he wants to make the transition as smooth as possible, and Obama said he would keep his comments to himself until he is inaugurated. After all, he said, "we have only one president at a time," and Mr. Bush is still president.
Are we on the threshold of a new era of decency and cordiality, a time of less political bickering and bitter criticism of the opposition? I have a feeling that even the nastiest of the nasty in Washington, D.C., would like to turn over a new leaf and begin to move in the direction of some sort of harmony. Something needs to change. This country is in deep trouble, and we all have to start pulling in the same direction to get out of this mess. Be optimistic -- and stay tuned.