Note to John McCain: Read this before conceding.

Who's winning, who's losing, and why.
Nov. 4 2008 10:20 AM

At a Loss for Words for Loss?

Note to John McCain: Read this before conceding.

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Exhort the Youth
The model: Michael Dukakis, George H.W. Bush

Again, the key here is salvaging a sense of decency and worth in politics—all the more crucial after a campaign based on such a thorough eviscerating of the individuals and institutions of Washington. Addressing the "young people" of America after his defeat in 1988, Dukakis said: "There is nothing you can do in this world more fulfilling and more satisfying than giving of yourself to others and making a contribution to your community and your state and your nation and your fellow citizens." Four years later, George H.W. Bush urged the same demographic not to "be deterred, kept away from public service by the smoke and fire of a campaign year or the ugliness of politics."

Show Some Empathy
Model: Abraham Lincoln via Adlai Stevenson

McCain is at his best as the underdog who—with a nod and, yes, a wink—sees something nobler than the brawl. For the last two months, he's been in the thick of it. In the early hours of Nov. 5, perhaps, we'll get a version of McCain who looks further than the next 24-hour news cycle. His most important job may be to provide some measure of visceral closure for his base—which provided this campaign with some of its scarier moments—not for the sake of making them feel good but to restore a sense of fellowship between them and their Obama-voting countrymen. McCain needs both to show his supporters he knows how they feel—and how important it is to move on. For this task, there are few passages better than Adlai Stevenson's invocation of Abraham Lincoln in his concession speech, delivered in Springfield, Ill., in 1952:

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Someone asked me as I came in, down on the street, how I felt, and I was reminded of a story that a fellow townsman of ours used to tell—Abraham Lincoln. They asked him how he felt once after an unsuccessful election. He said he felt like a little boy who had stubbed his toe in the dark. He said that he was too old to cry, but it hurt too much to laugh.

Ted Scheinman is a doctoral candidate and freelance writer based in Chapel Hill. Reach him at ts@email.unc.edu or follow him on Twitter.