BOSTON (CBS) – My colleague David Wade made a great point during our Massachusetts Primary election coverage Tuesday night. After watching Joe Kennedy’s gracious, emotional speech conceding his U.S. Senate race with Ed Markey, Wade wondered why it is that a candidate’s concession speech is so often his or her finest moment of the campaign?
That was certainly true Tuesday night, as the rapid-fire, often hard to follow Kennedy delivery was slowed way down, giving extra weight and sincerity to his familiar rhetoric about showing up for the downtrodden. And between his reference to having talked more about his family name during the race than he anticipated and his heartfelt admonition to his two young children to “stay in the fight,” you were left to wonder if he might have been better off making the lessons of family past and the needs of family future a more consistent theme of his candidacy.
Live and learn, I guess.
Markey too spoke with passion and grace during his victory speech, especially when he connected his memories of growing up in a blue-collar household to the struggles of today’s working class. And for a pol who can sometimes come off a bit on the glib side, Markey exuded sincerity as he rehashed his campaign’s biggest promises, most notably the Green New Deal’s expansive wish list of environmental and economic reforms.
To the victor goes the spoils, and Markey’s new term was hard-earned. But the juxtaposition of the two speeches made you wonder if the interests of the state and the nation would be better served by merging the best attributes of both men.
Even if Markey is part of a new Democratic majority in the Senate with Joe Biden back in the White House, the challenges facing us will be enormous. An ongoing pandemic, an economic collapse that might be getting worse instead of better, a massive budget deficit with a pressing need to make it even bigger, and a woefully, toxically divided political culture, both between right and left and within the Democratic party as the Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s of the world demand action on their priorities while moderates slam on the brakes.
It won’t be enough for Markey or his colleagues to play an inside game. The coming years seem more likely to require prodigious energy devoted to rebuilding function and trust, breaking down old institutional silos, somehow sorting a raft of conflicting agendas into a coherent framework that a solid majority of the political culture can get behind.
The climax of a costly, taxing, high-intensity campaign often yields a moment of deeply sober reflection and magnanimity to its combatants. That’s why election-night speeches sometimes resonate far beyond those of the race itself.
Here’s hoping Markey – and all the winners in November – can capture that too-often fleeting sensibility and preserve it for the trying times ahead when it will be most needed.