Concession civility is more than polite politics

A candidate concession speech is an important rite in a democracy that is done not for the benefit of the winner or the loser but as a means of honoring the voters and our system of government.

Sometimes the speech is done at a podium before a crowd, but more often than not it happens with the loser calling the winner with a word of congratulations.

"I remember running for the legislature when I was 28 years old and losing. I thought my political career was over, but I walked over to the courthouse, where my opponent was. I walked through his crowd of supporters, shook his hand and congratulated him," former Gov. Jim Edgar told me Nov. 9. "I didn't really want to do it, but I knew it was the right thing to do."

After the divisiveness of an election, supporters of the opposing candidates need to be brought together to work toward a common good, Edgar said.

"They don't have to like each other. But civility is an important part of our political process. You can't call someone a 'crook' and expect they will be willing to work with you," he said.

Civility is the grease that keeps the gears of democracy moving.

Former state Sen. Denny Jacobs, an East Moline Democrat, says such acts are becoming less common.

"I lost two elections during my time in politics. Both times I conceded. One time was to Pat Quinn when we both ran for [the Democratic nomination for] secretary of state. I called him up and congratulated him. He told me I never should have run. I told him, 'Watch it, Pat. I'm the guy whose ass you just kicked.' ... I never have had much use for him. But that doesn't mean we can't be civil."

Jacobs added that most of the candidates he defeated during his decades in politics never called him to concede.

When I was in graduate school at what is now the University of Illinois-Springfield, my political science professor Jack Van Der Slik compared the ballot box to communion within the church.

It's an intimate act that makes one part of a greater whole.

But when a president denigrates the foundation of American democracy, a fair and free election, we have reason for concern because it undermines who we are as a people.

And President Donald Trump is challenging the apparent outcome of the election in court by alleging voter fraud.

If there is evidence of widespread fraud, the president should present it. But so far, the evidence to support his claims have been at best underwhelming.

I might add that while the president has the right to go to court, one can question its advisability.

Edgar noted that in the 1960 presidential election, Richard Nixon declined to demand recounts in Illinois and Texas, despite rumors of voting irregularities, because he thought it would be a bad thing to put the nation through.

Former Illinois congressman and U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said he anticipates Trump will concede soon.

"Republican leaders are going to him and telling him it's time to concede. In the end, he'll do the right thing. It was a hard-fought race, but now it's time to move on," he said.

He added he anticipates that President Trump will participate in Biden's inauguration.

"With COVID, I doubt it will be a traditional inauguration with crowds of thousands, and hundreds of people on the platform," he said. "But, yes, I anticipate President Trump will be there."

Both Edgar and Ray LaHood are Republicans who supported Biden.

Edgar said Trump's unsubstantiated claims of a "rigged election" are harmful to the nation.

"Some of his supporters are going to believe that claim and, if they do, it diminishes the legitimacy of the next president."

Scott Reeder is a veteran Statehouse journalist and a freelance reporter. ScottReeder1965@gmail.com.

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