Sen. John McCain was about as gracious in defeat Tuesday as he possibly could have been. For a man who has spent the better part of the last decade working to become president of the United States, having to leave the national stage after such a resounding defeat clearly wasn’t easy.
McCain was certainly expected to congratulate his opponent and recognize Barack Obama’s historic achievement Tuesday. But I’m not sure he had to spend the better part of 10 minutes appealing for unity and talking about healing divisions, even after a campaign that left some hard feelings on both sides.
The fact that he did is a testament to his character, and to the kind of legacy he wants to leave behind.
Think back to the 2000 Republican primary in South Carolina and the controversy that erupted over the confederate flag issue. McCain eventually removed himself from the debate, telling the press that it was up to the people of South Carolina to decide whether or not the flag belongs. But his statement was the most forced and inauthentic one I have ever seen a politician make. He knew it, and he didn’t do all that much to hide it.
That’s the real John McCain. He doesn’t like to compromise and he hates defeat. And that’s why his words Tuesday struck me as much as they did.
To me, it was perhaps the best speech McCain gave the entire campaign. Unfortunately for him, it was his concession.
Shane D’Aprile is web editor at Politics magazine. firstname.lastname@example.org