One of my favorite, but now largely unknown speakers in American history was Robert Green Ingersoll. Redwater, Texas was originally named Ingersoll – after him. He was a philosopher and a popular intellectual, the most sought after orator of his time. He left us many fine proverbs. One of my favorites is this:
“The greatest test of courage on earth is to bear defeat without losing heart.”
Being graceful in victory is easy, but in defeat, to be dignified and composed and still hopeful for a better day, requires deep character.
As the country prepares to make the transition from one president to another, I’m reminded of an example of this kind of rare decency in defeat. It comes from George H. W. Bush. In 1992, he had just lost a bruising presidential campaign to a much younger, far less experienced Bill Clinton. It must have been excruciatingly painful for Mr. Bush. After all, it was said that he had the longest resume in the Western World. How could he lose to someone who was, at least on paper, less qualified for the job? But he accepted his defeat with grace.
As these fine Texans, George and Barbara, were moving out of the White House and the Clintons were soon to move in, George left a letter for Bill on the Oval Office desk. It has received a good deal of attention online over the past months, but it is a remarkable testimony to good character and it certainly deserves a re-reading. The letter is dated January 20, 1993. It says:
When I walked into this office just now I felt the same sense of wonder and respect that I felt four years ago. I know you will feel that, too.
I wish you great happiness here. I never felt the loneliness some Presidents have described.
There will be very tough times, made even more difficult by criticism you may not think is fair. I’m not a very good one to give advice; but just don’t let the critics discourage you or push you off course.
You will be our President when you read this note. I wish you well. I wish your family well.
Your success now is our country’s success. I am rooting hard for you.
Good Luck – George
Texans have long valued a true southern gentleman. If anyone ever needs a clear definition of what that means, have them read this letter from George H. W. Bush to Bill Clinton.