One of the best reads in the Sunday newspaper was a look back at what has to be the hardest thing to do in politics. Call up the person who defeated you in the race and concede on Election Night. Tell the person who you campaigned against, and swore about for months, “Congratulations”. Tell the winner that he/she will be in your thoughts and prayers, and wish the family all the best. All the while trying not to strangle yourself with the phone cord. I know, I know…..but the caller must wish they had an old-fashioned phone with a cord to end the misery. Damn the cell phone!
After all the news stories about last minute poll results, and final weekend strategizing by candidates this story was refreshingly honest.
And for half of the candidates come Tuesday night the last act of the election will be the dreaded phone call.
I didn’t do a phone call, I just sent him a telegram,” said George McGovern, the 1972 Democratic nominee who was recalling the election night bloodletting President Richard M. Nixon inflicted on him 38 Novembers ago. His place in the pantheon of political losers assured, Mr. McGovern could not bring himself to make the customary call to congratulate the freshly re-elected (and about-to-be disgraced) president. “I was somewhat wiped out by the extent of the landslide,” said Mr. McGovern, now 88, speaking on a cellphone from Montana, where he was visiting his daughter. “So I figured that would be the easier way to do it.”
Mr. Nixon sent a telegram back a few hours later. Both missives were perfunctory — winner and loser wishing each other well, best to your wife, that kind of thing. And the protocol was dispensed with for another election night.
As a general rule, the election night phone call is something of a social prop, a symbolic end point — or in some cases a physical spectacle. Mr. Harris recalls the night of the California recall election in 2003 in which Democratic governor Gray Davis was ousted from office and the Republican Arnold Schwarzenegger was picked to replace him. Mr. Schwarzenegger was entertaining a celebrity-laden gathering at the Century Plaza hotel in Los Angeles when he was told Mr. Davis was about to call to concede. “I remember everyone suddenly gathered in a circle just staring at the phone waiting for it to ring,” recalled Mr. Harris, adding that the phone-watchers included Rob Lowe, Jay Leno, the film director Ivan Reitman, Mr. Schwarzenegger’s wife, Maria Shriver, and in-laws Sargent and Eunice Shriver.
People on both sides of the Bush-Kerry call remember a brief, gracious exchange, which is generally the norm in these things, especially at the highest stations.
“The American people, by a great plurality, have conferred upon you the highest honor in their gift,” Theodore Roosevelt wrote to Woodrow Wilson in 1912. “I congratulate you thereon.”
“The people have made their choice and I congratulate you,” Adlai Stevenson wrote to President Dwight D. Eisenhower in 1952. “That you may be the servant and guardian of peace and make the vale of trouble a door of hope is my earnest prayer. Best Wishes, Adlai Stevenson.”
In remarks that accompanied his final concession to Mr. Bush, Mr. Gore invoked the words that Senator Stephen A. Douglas told Abraham Lincoln after Mr. Lincoln defeated him: “Partisan feeling must yield to patriotism. I’m with you, Mr. President, and God bless you.”