An Election Day Plea: Accept the People's Verdict
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As we end this searing presidential campaign, rather than offering an historian’s analysis or a pundit’s prediction, allow me to make a patriotic American’s plea. Growing up, we frequently heard the sexist sports cliché “may the best man win.” My plea to Democrats and Republicans, to Leftists and Rightists, to Blue Staters and Red Staters, to Americans -- is “let the winning candidate win,” meaning accept the American people’s verdict on Tuesday.
No matter what happens, tens of millions of people will be deeply disappointed; it has been that kind of campaign. The enmity, the bashing, all the talk of how different the candidates are and how polarized America is, combined with the fact that since the first debate each camp’s partisans could taste victory, will all but guarantee bad feelings if, as usually happens, one clear winner emerges on Election Day. Even before the campaign ended, murmurs started bubbling up, with some Democratic partisans ready to shout “voter intimidation” and some Republican partisans ready to shout “voter fraud.”
In truth, American politics is remarkably corruption-free these days. We have come a long way from “swilling the planters with bumbo” in eighteenth-century Virginia, the blatant manipulation of the “blocks of five, Dudley, scandal,” which custom-ordered votes in nineteenth-century Indiana, the crass “honest and dishonest graft” of Boss Tweed’s New York, Mayor Richard Daley’s Chicago of “vote early and vote often” or Richard Nixon’s Washington of bugging, break-ins and cover-ups.
This year’s candidates are honorable, stable family men. Barack Obama has run a seemingly corruption-free White House while Mitt Romney has been accused, at worst, of taking advantage of bad unfair laws, not breaking them. In general, compared to nineteenth-century America, post-Sixties, post-Watergate, 24/7 media-scrutinized twenty-first-century America has better, cleaner government, even though faith in the government’s purity and efficacy is at record lows -- thanks to some of those very phenomenon that keep the government in check.
If recent history is the guide, the outcome on Election Day will reflect the people’s will not a cheater’s skill -- and the accusation “we wuz robbed” will most likely reflect partisan frustration rather than the actual situation
So, my fellow Americans, please accept the people’s verdict on Tuesday and acknowledge the winner’s legitimacy.
Losing partisans should be gracious in the tradition of George Washington, who acknowledged that rational people can reason their way to differing conclusions, and of Abraham Lincoln, who even promised to handle a rebellious South “with malice toward none and charity toward all.”
They should accept their fates in the tradition of Samuel Tilden, who in 1876 conceded his heartbreaking, unfair loss to Rutherford B. Hayes, to avoid risking another Civil War, and of Al Gore, who battled up to the Supreme Court in 2000, then helped his opponent transition smoothly into power.
They can try laughing off their agony as George McGovern did in 1972 when he said he had wanted to run for president in the worst way -- and did -- or as John McCain did in 2008 when he said that after the campaign he “slept like a baby,” waking up periodically -- and crying hysterically. One McGovern obituary reported last month, when asked when you finally get over losing a presidential campaign, McGovern said, “you never fully get over it” -- and he died at ninety.
Meanwhile, the winners should be magnanimous in the tradition of Thomas Jefferson, who after the first transition from a ruling party to an opposition party in American history declared “We are all Republicans, we are all Federalists” and of U.S. Grant’s Native American aide Ely Parker, who, when greeted by the defeated Confederate General Robert E. Lee at Appomattox with the words “I am glad to see one real American here,” grandly replied: “We are all Americans, sir."
America’s rituals of political warfare are precious to us all, from the stump speeches and debates, which can sometimes elevate, to the mudslinging and the recriminations, which frequently demean us all. But our reconciliation rituals are precious to us too -- with a healing process that usually begins with the losing nominee’s phone call to the winner and gracious concession speech, then culminates with bipartisan participation in the inauguration ceremony. And this year in particular, a quick end to the extended conflict is particularly necessary. Our leader will have a country to run -- and we all have a world to fix.
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