Wednesday, November 5, 2008

John McCain praises Barack Obama in graceful concession speech

John McCain conceded defeat to Barack Obama in a speech of striking grace and generosity that called for all Americans to unite behind the new president-elect and paid rich tribute to his accomplishment of becoming the country's first African American leader.

The 72-year-old Arizona senator took the stage minutes after television networks declared his Democratic opponent had won an emphatic victory.

"My friends, we have come to the end of a long journey. The American people have spoken, and they have spoken clearly," Mr McCain said, flanked by his wife Cindy and running mate Sarah Palin and her husband Todd on a outdoor stage at a luxury hotel.

"A little while ago, I had the honour of calling Senator Barack Obama to congratulate him on being elected the next president of the country that we both love," he added, to scattered boos, and one cry of "Bullshit!".

Not for the first time Mr McCain said "please" in admonishment of an audience whose negative reaction was a reminder of the suspicion and loathing that some Americans hold for Mr Obama.

The Vietnam war veteran, who has often said that honour represents his highest ideal, showed a defeated soldier's nobility as he praised Mr Obama for inspiring millions of followers.

He continued by saying that Mr Obama's election would help the country heal its racial demons.

"This is an historic election. I recognise the special significance it has for African-Americans, for the special pride that must be theirs tonight.

"I've always believed that America offers opportunities to all who have the industry and will to seize it. Senator Obama believes that, too."

He recalled how his political hero, President Theodore Roosevelt, had invited Booker T Washington, an early black leader, to the White House, upsetting many at the time.

Saying that America was a world away from the bigotry of the early 20th century, he said: "We both recognise that though we have come a long way from the old injustices that once stained our nation's reputation ... the memory of them still had the power to wound.

"I urge all Americans who supported me to join me in not just congratulating him but offering our next president our goodwill and earnest effort to find ways to come together.

"Whatever our differences, we are fellow Americans."

Mr McCain also extended his sympathies to Mr Obama following the death of his grandmother on Sunday, two days before the election.

"Senator Obama has achieved a great thing for himself and for his country, and I applaud him for it and offer him his sincere sympathy his beloved grandmother did not see him on this day," he said.

McCain's concession came after a gruelling two-year presidential race in which he clinched the Republican nomination earlier this year with a remarkable comeback after his campaign nearly went bankrupt.

He had been neck-and-neck with Obama until Wall Street crashed in mid-September.

Even at the age of 72, the Republican mounted a frenzied offensive in the final days of the campaign, criss-crossing America in a bid to drum up support, including unusual election day visits to Colorado and New Mexico earlier on Tuesday.

In contrast to the exultant scenes at Mr Obama's massive rally in a Chicago park, Mr McCain addressed a few thousand people in the garden of a luxury hotel in Phoenix, capital of his home state, with many guests in their finery, wandering the lawn clutching glasses of wine.

Some of his supporters followed his lead in accepting defeat gracefully. Others vented their anger. "It scares me that people could elect Barack Obama," said Jessica Ornstein. "Have they ever read a history book and looked up communism. He is an angry black man and Michelle Obama is a reverse racist. He is not my president."

Guy Bluff, 48, said: "I saw this coming. With the way the economy is, I don't know what he could have done."

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