the lesson John McCain taught me in his defeat.

Todd - Strasburg, Pennsylvania
Entered on November 7, 2008

On Tuesday, America made history in an election so drawn out and impassioned that it received the attention of the entire world. Yes, through Obama’s victory, America declared it made history once again. However, there was another victory I saw Tuesday night that was not covered by the media. I am referring to the victory won by John McCain, illustrating to the world how to lose with grace, valor and honor…the intended cornerstones of his campaign.

Historically, lawsuits, protests, riots and even wars are begun and fought because one person or group is unable to accept defeat. But in arguably John McCain’s worst political moment, he remained true to his word, showing his supporters, detractors and the world that, in the face of defeat, you do not need to protest, sling political mud, riot in the streets or declare a Ghad-like war on the victor. Instead, he displayed honor, glory and valor by admitting defeat, congratulating the victor and asking his followers to join him in supporting the president-elect to accomplish common goals.

The true character of a people is made up by how they handle themselves in their weakest and greatest moments. In this time, in this country, in this moment, John McCain reaffirmed to the world that America is a place where liberty it not just spoken, but lives free and rings true for everyone to hear. Fight for what you believe, fight hard for your voice to be heard, but when the people finally cast a vote, accept their decision and show the world how to do the same.

Leaders who lose are still leaders. They still have followers and, on Tuesday, Senator McCain led his group down a road of humility, grace and perseverance. Not a harmful word was spoken as he asked the people to unite and find common ground to work together. He placed the blame not on the pundits or the media, but squarely on himself. He showed us that in true democracy, people win and people lose, and what makes the difference is how we choose to respond. He could have chosen different words, stirring feelings and sentiments uttered to incite further dissension that tear countries apart, but instead, he lead us to a place of peace and determination. Some may call him weak, some may discount my opinion as an excuse, but in defeat, John McCain showed the world why we call ourselves the United States – coming together as one even in the face of disagreement.

This election engaged record numbers of people as if our country was waking up from a long hibernation, but it does not just stop with the casting of our votes. As citizens, we must remain involved, demand that our elected officials stop keeping score. We need to begin listening to each other, not just to those who share our same values and beliefs, but to those of differing opinions. We need to take the time to hear and absorb the reasons why others feel differently. Moreover, we must make it clear that we expect our elected officials to govern in accordance with our votes. In three election cycles, our country has repeatedly confirmed that we are a country in the middle. Unite us rather than govern us, left or right. Govern for the people, with the people and by the people’s vote. We must demand to know the whole story, not just the parts that raise the ratings.

At an early age we are taught to share, in marriage we embrace compromise, and in our work we are taught the art of negotiating. We are a people who have built a country by meeting with one another, talking together and figuring out a path forward. Don’t allow your elected official to do anything less. They should not only be willing to listen to you, but listen to others who believe differently on the issues. We must challenge them to find the common ground.

In the adjacent office cubicle, the neighbor next door or the local grocer, you can bet that almost half these people you interact with on a daily basis went into a private voting booth and cast a ballot that was different than your own. But on Wednesday, you still went to work side by side, purchased products from their businesses or waved to them in the driveway. This is why the United States of America is the greatest country in the world. Election day gave us two life lessons – one of victory and one of defeat – both indelibly etched in our memories from two men who found common ground in wanting the best for our country.