16 speeches

I would not have predicted, but Hubert Humphrey's was my favorite—or at least the most entertaining. Also, 7 other things worth your time.

Welcome to all of our new subscribers after the weekend. Thank you for being here. I hope you’ll share this newsletter with friends and let them know that they should sign up, too. Here’s a handy, easy link.

Things I do with my spare time: I went back and dug up footage of the concession speeches from every defeated presidential candidate dating to 1952, when Adlai Stevenson offered congratulations to then-General Dwight D. Eisenhower.

I only watched parts of each video, of course, but it was an interesting, moving experience. And so, I compiled the highlights into a short video you’ll find below.

I should mention that I started this project on Saturday evening, after every media organization called the election for Joe Biden and Kamala Harris. And then, it was great weather here Sunday, so I spent the day at the shore with my family.

But now the president hasn’t conceded, almost 48 hours later—and reports are he has no plans to do so anytime soon, instead plans a lot more court challenges, etc. (I’m not getting too deep into all that for now, although I have a link or two in the “7 things” section at the end.)

So, this examination will either seem premature or even more apt, depending on your point of view.

Anyway, these are 16 tough, ambitious politicians who fought hard campaigns for the highest office in the land, but who ultimately came up short. Then, in their moment of defeat, they had to stand up in front of the nation and acknowledge it.

Chances are you saw at least pieces of some of these at the time, depending on your age. But who ever goes back and looks at them years later? It’s pretty interesting.

After Stevenson, there was Nixon, who lost to JFK in 1960, and who might have had very good reason to complain he’d actually been robbed of the presidency in Chicago and Texas. But, he decided not to fight for the good of the country.

Then, Barry Goldwater, who got trounced in 1964 and reportedly deeply disliked his opponent, President Johnson—but pledged his support where he could, and remained a force in the Senate for decades afterward.

Most amusing among the speeches might be Humphrey’s speech in 1968, which is ironic given what a tumultuous year that was. I only included two lines in the video, but during most of his talk he sounds mellow and relieved to be headed back to Minnesota as a former vice president. (He later was reelected to the Senate in 1971.)

Anyway, we go on past McGovern, to Ford (whose voice was hoarse and who had his wife, Betty, read most of his concession), then Carter, Mondale, and Dukakis.

Then, the first President Bush, who famously left a very warm letter for his successor, Bill Clinton, and who was about as gracious as you can imagine in his speech, despite being heartbroken at the result.

Bob Dole was next; he hushed his own supporters during his speech, to remind them that President Clinton was his opponent, but not his enemy.

From there: Al Gore (I’m sure you remember that one), John Kerry, John McCain (exceptionally gracious), Mitt Romney, and of course, Hillary Clinton in 2016.

It’s funny, for many of these, they seem so authentic and relaxed, albeit disappointed, that you wonder: If they’d been like that during the campaign itself, would they have had to give a concession speech? It might have made the difference for them.

I’ve had a thought in the back of my mind since the last debate, when the moderator asked Trump and Biden how they’d address people who didn’t vote for them in their inauguration addresses.

It occurred to me: Even if a presidential candidate won in an absolute landslide — say, 70% of the vote in a 150 million vote election—that would still mean 45 million people assessed you, considered you, and said “no thanks.”

And that’s if you win big; by definition giving a concession speech means you didn’t.

Anyway, for the zillionth time in the last little while, I have to conclude here by acknowledging an uncertain future.

But besides just an interesting history lesson, the experience of watching parts of these speeches—one after the other after the other—at least gave me a little bit more faith in the past.

Here’s the link to the video. It runs a bit over two minutes, and I hosted it on YouTube via Twitter, mainly because there’s no easy way to display it in this email otherwise.

7 other things worth your time

If you liked this post, and you’re not yet a subscriber, what are you waiting for? Please sign up for the daily Understandably.com email newsletter, with thousands and thousands of 5-star ratings from happy readers. You can also just send an email to signup@understandably.com. 

And of course, please share Understandably! Seriously, if you’ve wondered, What can I do to help Bill? That’s the #1 thing I need—for people who enjoy this newsletter to encourage friends and family to sign up as well. Thank you!

Share Understandably