By James M. Perry
Concession speeches by losing politicians are usually predictable -- congratulate the winner, thank the hard-working volunteers, hug the wife and kids, wave to the crowd, and head back to the hotel suite for a stiff drink.
Not so last Tuesday night with Mississippi state Sen. Chris McDaniel, loser in a nasty, hard-fought primary runoff with U.S. Sen. Thad Cochran. The 41-year-old McDaniel was angry, and refused to concede. "We had a dream and the dream is still with us," he told a crowd at his campaign headquarters in Hattiesburg. "Today the conservative movement took a back seat to liberal Democrats in Mississippi."
Everyone in the crowd knew what he was talking about. The 76-year-old Cochran made a last-minute appeal to black voters, and by all reckoning they swarmed to the polls to vote for him. That's perfectly legal, for Mississippi primaries are open, meaning anyone can vote in them.
Because politicians hate losing elections, really good concession speeches are rare.
The best, I think, was delivered by the erudite Adlai Stevenson in 1952, after he was crushed by Dwight Eisenhower.
"Someone asked me as I came in, down on the street. how I felt, and I was reminded of a story that a fellow-townsman of ours used to tell -- Abraham Lincoln," Stevenson said. "They asked him how he felt after an unsuccessful election. He said he felt like a little boy who had stubbed his toe in the dark. He said he was too old to cry. but it hurt too much to laugh."
Alf Landon, who lost badly to FDR in 1936, was pretty good too. Landon said his defeat reminded him of the Kansas farmer laughing after a tornado wrecked his farm. His wife said, "What are you laughing at, you old fool?" He replied, "the completeness of it all."
After his loss to Barack Obama in 2008, Senator John McCain of Arizona told a home-state crowd that he would do all in his power to help Obama "lead us through the many challenges we face." He said Obama had won an an "historic" victory and he recognized the "special significance it has for African-Americans and for the special pride that must be theirs tonight."
There have been lots of really bad concession speeches but it's hard to top Richard Nixon's famous "last press conference" on Nov. 7, 1962, after he had unexpectedly lost the California governor's race to Democrat Pat Brown. It was all the fault of the press, he said. They'd been badgering him ever since the Alger Hiss case in 1948. Now, he said, reporters should "give the shaft" to future candidates, just as they had given the shaft to him. "You don't have Nixon to kick around any more. because, gentleman, this is my last press conference." He was elected president six years later.
Thomas Dewey was so upset by his loss to FDR in 1944 that he conceded with almost nobody listening in a radio interview. "Son of a bitch," FDR said. In 1916, Charles Evans Hughes took took two weeks to telegraph Woodrow Wilson his concession. Wilson said the message was "a little moth-eaten when it got here, but quite legible."
Ross Perot, a colorful independent candidate in 1992, gave a little concession speech "and then switched to body English," the New Yorker reported. "Cackling wildly, he swept his wife into his arms and danced to a deafening recording of Patsy Cline's 'Crazy.' "