That moment during McCain’s concession speech in 2008, when he mentions Obama, and a ripple of boos begin. McCain, his face showing disapproval, holds up his hands palms down — a controlling gesture, but a calming one. He says the simple word, “Please,” and patiently waits until his audience settles down. He says he just called Obama “to congratulate him on being elected president of the country we both love.” There are some more boos. He puts up one hand, palm down, and again his face shows disapproval.
McCain then goes on to touch on values central to his Republican platform — an America defined by meritocracy and a work ethic.
“His success alone commands my respect for his ability and perseverance.”
McCain even goes on to acknowledge that Obama won by “inspiring the hopes of so many millions of Americans” (echoing Obama’s hope-themed campaign message).
The camera shows his audience (mostly white and male) listening attentively to his words and snapping flash pictures as McCain acknowledges the effectiveness of his opponent’s platform, recalls Teddy Roosevelt’s then-controversial invitation to Booker T. Washington to dine at the White House, and mentions the pride that African-Americans rightly feel about Obama’s accomplishment.
And the crowd seems to catch him by surprise by bursting into applause at his line about how the election of Obama is a sign that America has changed for the better. The applause isn’t that loud, but it comes after McCain has already made his point and has moved on. And there are some whistles.
“Senator Obama has achieved a great thing for himself and his country,” says the man who just lost to him. “I applaud him for it.”
That kind of attitude is normal in a healthy, civil democracy.