Analysis of the 3rd Party Concession Speeches

This is a playlist of the speeches in chronological order!

I uploaded what I was able to find, but it sadly wasn’t a lot. Only one Libertarian and Green party candidate each, plus Ross Perot the Reform Party founder and Howard Philips of the Taxpayer’s Party (later renamed the Constitution Party.) I’m not sure why I couldn’t find any on CSPAN for the other candidates, especially from more recent cycles. As it happens, all of these are from ’96-’00 with the lone exception of Perot’s speech from ’92. So I’m assuming news media was just particularly “generous” around that time to air these, or maybe the third parties themselves stopped bothering after then.

Ross Perot 1992

This is a big campaign rally on election night coupled with a concession speech as the returns came in. I think it’s a good example of Perot’s showmanship and folksy charm which are two helpful qualities for campaigning that he had (and most third parties and independents unfortunately lack). When Hillary Clinton said she couldn’t remember anything about Perot except some infomercials on economics, she was either deliberately mis-remembering or so dense she missed it. Something that really stands out to me about this rally is how Perot is right there with his supporters passing the time. Nowadays the candidates from major parties sit in some backroom with their advisers watching the returns come in until 270 is reached, then they come out to make a final speech. (And speaking of Hillary, she couldn’t even be bothered to do that.)

Perot makes an interesting metaphor, calling himself “the grain of sand in an oyster” being turned into a pearl. The idea being that his supporters have morphed him into a leader and overall better person. Perot even demonstrates a good bit of magnanimity in calling for a round of applause on Clinton’s behalf. Something Ross says which I don’t recall hearing from ANY of the major party concessions is in his declaration of the campaign itself as the greatest honor of his life. Later on, there’s also three cheers called for Bush in honor of his service to the country. This good-natured humility is such a welcome sight in our modern times of hyper-partisanship and polarization. I also like how he calls on his supporters to work with the administration to accomplish the goals of their campaign. All concession speeches allude to this sentiment on some level, and encourage the supporters not to be discouraged by the process. But Perot’s overtures here feel a lot more pronounced and sincere compared to the main contenders I’ve seen from other cycles. His speech feels incredibly humble—much more so than ANY major candidates.

Im not just saying this as a Perot fan, or out of sympathy to a third party, but this is my favorite concession speech in all modern US history. It’s the only one which dares to give a mandate to the people listening to get shit done despite the loss. Like Clinton’s victory speech, it talks about the issues ahead as well, but Perot has a way of talking with the crowd rather than talking at them as Clinton/Obama seemed to do in their victory speeches. My favorite moment from an election night speech, and perhaps my favorite from ANY political speech, is when Perot holds up a “Perot ’96” bumper sticker and the crowd goes wild. It may be a bit cheesy, but I also like the way he leads the crowd in song a few times during the proceedings—it makes the rally feel a lot more passionate, and inspires a sense of camaraderie. The story Perot tells of some military servicemen who were tortured for singing the Star Spangled Banner was touching and sort of contextualizes the use of music in the rally.

If ever there’s an election night event I think it would have been the most fun to attend, it’s this one hands down. This really feels like it’s about THE PEOPLE and the issues they care about as opposed to the candidate and their ego. Perot should have been the President, and if we had Instant Runoff Voting, or perhaps even Approval Voting, it almost certainly would have been a reality. The problem isn’t the electoral college when only 19% of the electorate is brave enough to risk voting outside the binary in the first place. First Past the Post is the true enemy we need to overthrow to start getting the people we really need in power.

Ross Perot 1996

This one wasn’t a whole rally like its counterpart from the previous cycle—this time we just get a more simple, by the numbers concession speech. It makes me really sad when Perot’s talking about campaign and election reform knowing that 21 years later it still hasn’t happened. Still no balanced budget amendment either (though I’m not sure if I even support that.) I’m disappointed I couldn’t see Perot’s new VP choice (Pat Coates) in action at the debates or something. Based on the few words he speaks here, he seems an incredible improvement over Stockdale. Coates is actually well spoken and not an elderly wreck. Unfortunately, he spends a lot of his time talking about a bright future of 3 major parties that also never seemed to come to fruition. Again, the reason for this is First Past the Post makes two parties inevitable due to the spoiler effect. The Reform Party itself also collapsed the very next cycle due to Pat Buchanan hijacking the party.

I’m sad to say a lot of the charm, excitement and promise found in the previous concession speech was missing here. This felt a lot more similar to either major party’s concessions. It’s indicative of how anticlimactic ’96 proved to be in comparison to Perot’s first outing.

Howard Philips 1996

Philips is a person I don’t want to like, considering his extreme right-wing stance on the issues as well as his militantly anti-LGBT views. However, I have a lot of respect for what he managed to do creating the Taxpayer’s Party (later renamed the Constitution Party) through sheer force of will. His rise from the little Independent Voters Party debate in ’92, through his impressive debate performances in ’96 and getting on the ballot in 35+ states every cycle is a very impressive feat to behold regardless of my opinion of his policies. Anyway, I like the venue for this speech: rather than a big auditorium it’s like a small catered party with a nice window view. It’s intimate, like a cocktail party. I know that’s only because there’s not enough Taxpayer Party members to fill an auditorium, but regardless.

Philips has a lot of harsh words to say about Perot which was pretty surprising. In fact, unlike Perot who emphasizes his similarities with the major candidates, Philips strenuously lays out his differences with them. It seems Philips is trying to carve out a niche for right-wing voters against the other two parties that are on that side of the spectrum. Basically, he doesn’t need to criticize Clinton because if you’re in this party you are already diametrically opposed to Democrats anyway. Despite the abrasiveness, it’s actually kind of refreshing to see a candidate be this blunt instead of the typical feel-good double-speak platitudes. ( On that note, I specifically wanted to watch these Third Party concessions to see if they’d conduct themselves with the decor of main candidates or go off on them like this.)

I liked the line about how Dole wants to fix Social Security “the way you’d fix a cat—and the cat wouldn’t like it.” That was a humorous line. At his point in the proceedings, what’s also impressing me is how Philips is saying all of this without a podium, notes, or a teleprompter. He’s speaking from the heart and doing so very passionately, eloquently, and loudly. This is why I like Phillips in spite of myself, and despite the fact he’d hate everything about me. I mean, say what you will about Philips, but he believes what he’s saying with all his heart and he’s not afraid to express it. I respect that very much, and his honesty is something I’d want to see more of in politics. Like many, I’m sick of the Hillary’s and the Obama’s telling me what I want to hear, token lip service to LGBT rights with little actual progress, then turning around and droning people while spying on my digital footprint once they’re in office. Flowery prose with focus-grouped talking points means nothing if there isn’t passion and sincerity behind it.

ASIDE: I often find myself attacking Hillary even more than some of those on the right, and I now suspect that’s why Philips attacks the GOP more than the Left here in this speech—he holds his own side to a higher standard, and traitors to it or mediocre standard-bearers piss him off more than ideological opponents. And I can understand and respect that as well.

Philips’ lines about the Whigs and Lincoln show he also has a good knowledge of election history–better than the 3rd Party debate moderator from this cycle. While he hasn’t been proven right yet, I think the inability of the two major parties to address the biggest issues today will eventually be their downfall as well. On some level I believe that’s what the rise of Trump was all about.

I have to say, on a less serious note, when he’s introducing his family I couldn’t help but chuckle at some of the names: Liberty, Angel, etc. Like, they’re EXACTLY what I’d imagine a hardcore rightist evangelical would name their children. That said, it’s touching how he knows all his staff and supporters’ names and says some kind words about all of them. Trump did the same thing on election night 20 years later, but it felt very insincere and he pulled his usual demeaning “where’s so-and-so? Where are they?” when they’re right next to him shtick. By contrast, when Philips does it, it feels very warm. When he asks one woman to say a few words, he adds “after all, we’ve got to give her some recognition in her race for governor” with a reverent smile. Compare that to how Trump forced a clearly reluctant, unprepared Reince Preibus to the podium in a transparent effort to embarrass him.

“Your vote is the currency of your virtue” is a great line that I think any independent or third party candidate ought to quote. Howard’s son Doug gets up to speak a few words in defense of this statement. Godwin’s law, but a big part of Doug’s speech is about the Austrian anchluss referendum Hitler presented to the people to justify his annexation of their country. While the spoiler effect is an undeniable flaw of our First Past the Post system, Doug does make a good point. Just because other people won’t vote their conscience, that’s not the fault of those with the guts who do. Doug’s statement about how either party is then free to be as awful as they want to because they know they hold you hostage is also very prescient to what happened in ’16. Essentially Hillary held Trump up to our collective heads like a gun and felt free to flaunt her own scandals and two-facedness because of that threat. Unfortunately for her, America called her bluff.

This is one of the few Third Party speeches, and one of fewer than 5 election night speeches I’d actually strongly recommend watching. Even if you’re like me and don’t like anything Philips stands for, his obvious passion is mesmerizing. It’s something any grassroots longshot candidate should seek to learn from and emulate in their own campaign. There’s something very noble about lost causes fought for by idealistic people. It’s one of my favorite aspects of McGovern and his candidacy, and while Philips is the antithesis to him, he embodies that same ideal.

Harry Browne 1996

I wish Harry Brown had played up the idea of ending the drug war in the boring debate from this cycle I watched. In the future, Gary Johnson would play up that appealing policy which I think would have gotten him some positive feedback if he hadn’t blown it in other ways. Also, I know it’s his job, but Browne seems pretty crazy talking about how the Libertarian Party is winning the conversation and somehow reaching ascendancy when they just got 1% in the polls. Much of his enthusiasm here seems very forced and scripted to me, probably because it’s mostly a show for the supporters to not lose hope. While he’s not a particularly exciting speaker by any means, Browne does have more presence here than I recall him having in the debate. This is somewhat similar to Perot’s ’96 concession speech, talking about enacting the issues they all care about in a somewhat phony positivity. Browne doesn’t even say the names of his competitors from the other parties nor does he acknowledge who won or the vote counts.

Ralph Nader 2000

I’m glad I was able to find a Nader concession, and especially the one from his most famous campaign. Something he does which I did not see in Browne or Phillips is praising his VP selection. Similar to Browne, Nader frames his campaign as a long-shot insurgency against an imperial force in the vein of our own Revolutionary War. He does mention Gore and Bush, but not in a congratulatory way, just expressing that he ran because both take orders from corporations. It surprises me, seeing all of these now, that Perot alone congratulated his two biggest opponents. I speculate Ross was a lot kinder to them because he was allowed into the debates in ’92 and because he foresaw his new party in ’96 eventually rejoining the big boys table again the next cycle. I wonder if he could go back in time now what he’d say about Bush/Dole and Clinton.

Nader seems to have been wrong about the growth of the Green Party—he says it’s the third largest and fastest growing, which it may have been in ’00. But nowadays it has sunken back into fourth place and the Libertarians have reclaimed both honors. He seems as mistakenly optimistic about the future of his party as Perot was one cycle earlier. Nader is very similar to Clinton/Obama and Perot/Phillips in that he lays out the issues his candidacy was about at length. He does so in far greater depth than Phillips or Perot, however. Nader also zeroes in on the party ideologically closer to him (the Democrats) similar to Phillips, and calls them to a higher standard. However, Nader goes into far greater detail for the failings of the Democrats than Phillips did to the Republicans.

I do agree with Nader that what’s most important is that good people go into politics. Unfortunately that did not seem to happen after this candidacy but it does seem to be happening now in the modern Trump Era. While I respect this third party campaign he ran, I agree with his vehement criticisms of the Democrats, and think he’s unfairly scapegoated for Gore’s self-inflicted loss, I say Nader would have been better off going the Bernie way. I think Bernie got a lot of attention he otherwise wouldn’t, and inspired people in a way a million independents don’t, because he was willing to enter the den of vipers and speak the same peace Nader is here, safely outside its walls. While Bernie was nevertheless cheated out of the nomination, he reached a greater audience and seems to have lit a fuse for countless Millennials. I think by sacrificing his efforts for the greater good to get Hillary elected also martyred him (especially when she lost of her own accord so it was all for nothing) whereas had he been an independent he’d be unfairly slandered as a spoiler the same as Nader has since.

All this speculation isn’t to take anything away from Naders candidacy or this speech in particular. He also knows how to build up the excitement in a speech, starting quieter and more negative towards the other parties before raising his voice and getting the crowd worked up about the issues that are dear to him. This is something very few speakers seem to understand much less do well. Even Perot and McGovern did not seem to have this technique down, but Nader, Bernie, Jesse Jackson and even Obama did it very well. However, one flaw with this particular speech is I think Nader carried on a bit too long with it; he repeats certain points more than necessary and when the cameras scan the crowd you can see people getting restless.

That said, something that really set this speech apart for me was quoting “the ancients” as Nader calls them—Cicero of Ancient Rome, Daniel Webster and Gandhi. It’s good to see a US political speech that isn’t afraid to quote a semi-obscure (to modern ignorant audiences) US civil servant as well as non-Americans. I’m so sick of all the unimaginative, lowest common denominator, often cliché, meaningless Washington or Lincoln quotes. Quoting someone different really stands out to me and speaks to the person’s sincerity, where Washington/Lincoln quotes often feel like you’re just using the name recognition and little else.

Conclusions

As I would have expected, the third party concessions tend to be a lot more unique and passionate then those of the major parties. So many of the major party concessions (Dukakis being the best example) just feel so fake, so forced, just going through the motions. They reiterate Adlai Stevenson’s blueprint with some of their own words and that’s it. The two worst of these third party concessions–Perot and Browne, both from ’96–follow those same cliches. I expected it from Browne, since he already struck me as a very by-the-numbers unexciting candidate from my research in 2016. Perot in ’96 I expect was just tired as well as disappointed he didn’t garner the same excitement or respect as he did in his first run. It’d be hard to redo the same enthusiasm from ’92 after not getting invited to the debates.

The three best speeches came from two of the best (and my fave) third party/independent runs of all time. Howard Phillips rounds out that top three; love him or hate him he was an extremely passionate, dedicated force in politics. What sets these speeches apart (besides length) is the passion and straying from conventions. Perot in ’92 knew how to get a crowd excited. Watching that final rally it’s impossible not to feel some sense of “this was the people’s choice”/”this is what politics could and should be.” It felt far more sincere than most campaign rallies I’ve seen, and it was more gracious towards BOTH competitors than I’ve ever seen in a concession speech. Phillips and Nader both care deeply about what they see as the chief issues in the country and they speak about them very eloquently. They set themselves apart from Perot or Browne by harping on the major party closest to them ideologically (GOP for Phillips, Dems for Nader) and calling them to a higher standard in the future. I’d especially recommend watching those three speeches in. I think they’re some of the best election night speeches ever delivered by any candidate. Right up there with Dole, McGovern and McCain’s concessions as well as Clinton (’92) and Obama’s victory speeches. Extremely well spoken and dedicated to the issues, which is exactly what politics ought to be–not just stupid arbitrary conventions or force of personality alone, which is what the major party speeches often are.

1 Comment

  1. Good Job as usual Cassandra. This is a valuable resource for anyone researching third party candidates. I didn’t watch all the speeches but it is nice to have a go to source if I ever want to. You were right about the passion of Howard Philips, he sounded like he was still campaigning. He was kind of a frightening example of Religious Right politics, he had some positive ideas about taxation but his enforcing of his own morality was frightening. I always liked Harry Brown, but you are right his speech did lack passion. I have read some of his books and think he has some solid ideas, one of the better Libertarian candidates. You are good at political analysis and look forward to reading more of your writing on political science. I like this a lot and will reblog it to Tumbler. Your ideas should be more widely read.

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