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How <i>Not</i> To Say Goodbye

A verbally adept politician can win admiration in defeat that even winners can't match.

Buried under a Dwight Eisenhower landslide in 1952, Democrat Adlai Stevenson quoted an Abraham Lincoln line in his concession speech: "I'm like the boy who stubbed his toe in the dark. I'm too old to cry and it hurts too much to laugh."

Running for the Democratic presidential nomination against Jimmy Carter in 1976, Congressman Morris Udall was incorrectly projected by some television networks as the winner of the Wisconsin primary. He made a rousing victory speech to supporters, then went to bed. He awoke the following morning to discover the computers were wrong, and he had been defeated in the raw vote count. Never one to let a setback get in the way of a laugh, Udall told reporters, "You know all the times I said 'win' last night? Well, I want you to insert the word 'lose.'"

Stevenson and Udall demonstrated not only class, but a straightforward recognition of the facts of defeat. No whining, no excuses, just like we teach our children. Then there are politicians of a different, disgusting stripe.

Among his many weaknesses, like starting and losing four wars in ten years and initiating a murderous policy of "ethnic cleansing," Yugoslavia's recently ousted President Slobodan Milosevic demonstrated a new level of self-delusion and chutzpah on the way out the door. As thousands of his citizens rioted in the streets to protest his attempt to steal the democratic election from Vojislav Kostunica, Milosevic went on national television to announce he was giving in. But the concession speech was a doozy that not even the most shameless of American political consultants would have tried to run up the flagpole.

After claiming he was relieved to be getting the burdens of office off his shoulders, Slobo declared he would spend some time with his family, then "help my party gain force and contribute to the future prosperity of the country." Someone should have tapped him on the shoulder at this point, saying, "Slobo, you're an indicted war criminal. There won't be anybody to take your filing fee in prison."

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Milosevic, speaking as though he was just an ordinary civic minded activist, asserted that his party, the SPS - the Socialist Party of Serbia - will gain strength to such an extent that they will win convincingly in the next election.

He neglected to mention that SPS headquarters was in no shae right then to lead an electoral charge, having been destroyed - floor by floor - by angry protesters. Nor did he appear to notice the small detail that his parliament building was on fire and that other members of his party were demanding that he be hung by his heels from the nearest window. As far as Slobo was concerned it was, "Hey, we lost round one. But another day will come."

This sort of breathtaking refusal to see the truth of a situation is not uncommon in politics. Reality Check has compiled a list of euphemistic or delusional responses to defeat, the best of which follow:

Japan's Emperor Hirohito, in a radio address, announcing his country's surrender to America and its World War II allies after two atom bombs had been dropped, spoke in something approaching code: "The war did not turn in Japan's favor, and trends of the world are not advantageous to us."

Spiro Agnew, resigning the vice presidency as part of a plea bargain deal growing out of his conviction for taking bribes as Maryland's governor, said that he wanted to reassure the public that the construction companies which paid him thousands under the table to win state contracts had all built quality roads.

Nicaraguan dictator Anastasio Somoza, who ruled by the gun just like Milosevic, was not guilty of euphemism, just thuggery, when he told political opponents after stealing an election, "You won the election, but I won the count."

My personal favorite self-serving - but heartfelt - concession statement is the won delivered by Democratic party court-jester Dick Tuck, who upon losing a California legislative race in the 1970s issued a statement that said, "The people have spoken ... the bastards."