Scott Farris: It’s Almost-Presidents’ Day!
Scott Farris is the author of “Almost President: The Men Who Lost the Race But Changed the Nation.”
Eleven years ago today, Al Gore, for one important moment, was the most powerful man in our republic. The day before, the Supreme Court, in a 5-4 vote, halted the partial recount of presidential ballots in Florida that Gore had requested. But that did not mean the 2000 presidential election was over. George W. Bush could not declare victory until Gore conceded defeat.
This is our protocol in every presidential election, whether the results are clear on election night or weeks later. Our democratic political system works only when the losers give their consent to be governed by the winners. The first signal that this consent is granted comes with the losing candidate’s concession. At this moment, following a hard-fought election where passions have run high, the concession begins the process of reuniting an intensely divided country. Yet this vital service to the nation provided by losing presidential candidates is seldom appreciated....
In many countries, losing candidates do not peacefully accept defeat, and their obstinacy leads to political chaos, riots and sometimes civil war. Gore understood the risks to America from a prolonged dispute over an unresolved election....
Winning the presidency does not guarantee the winner will leave a great mark upon history; the office has certainly had its share of non-entities. Many losing candidates, though, helped bring into being political dynamics that still define our politics. Men like Henry Clay, William Jennings Bryan, Thomas Dewey, Barry Goldwater and George McGovern have created, transformed and realigned our political parties. Losing campaigns typically are the first to break barriers and expand participation. These include the first Catholic to be nominated for president, as well as the first woman and the first Jew to be named as vice presidential nominees....
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