It's not unusual for a losing candidate to make the best speech of his campaign only when he concedes. That was true of John McCain Tuesday night. His eyes bloodshot, if not teary, McCain gave what seemed to be a deeply heartfelt speech congratulating the man who had just beat him and won the presidency of the United States. If only for a moment at the end of his campaign, the Republican was once again the man he'd always presented himself as: honorable, bipartisan -- a uniter, not a divider.
"The American people have spoken, and they have spoken clearly," McCain said, going on to deliver the standard line: "A little while ago, I had the honor of calling Sen. Barack Obama to congratulate him ..." And here he was interrupted by boos, which he silenced with a "please" before continuing, "to congratulate him on being elected the next president of the country that we both love. In a contest as long and difficult as this campaign has been, his success alone commands my respect for his ability and perseverance. But that he managed to do so by inspiring the hopes of so many millions of Americans who once wrongly believed that 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."
McCain spent some time not just on congratulating Obama, but on congratulating African-Americans -- indeed, all of the country -- on electing the United States' first African-American president. "Let there be no reason now for any American to fail to cherish their citizenship in this, the greatest nation on earth. Sen. Obama has achieved a great thing for himself and his country. I applaud him for it and offer my sincere sympathy that his beloved grandmother did not live to see this day," McCain said.
After that, it was the McCain once known primarily for his attempts to reach across the aisle who was speaking, saying:
I urge all Americans who supported me to join me in not just congratulating him but offering our next president our good will and earnest effort to find ways to come together, to find the necessary compromises to bridge our differences and help restore our prosperity, defend our security in a dangerous world and leave our chldren and grandchildren a stronger, better country than we inherited. Whatever our differences, we are fellow Americans. And please believe me when I say no association has ever meant more to me than that.
After assuring his supporters that it was his fault, not theirs, that he had lost, McCain ended his speech on a similar note. "I wish Godspeed to the man who was my former opponent and will be my president. And I call on all Americans, as I have often in this campaign, to not despair of our present difficulties, but to believe, always, in the promise and greatness of America, because nothing is inevitable here."