The List

Going Out Gracelessly

The six worst concessions in recent political history.

Later tonight -- or, if worst comes to worst, in the next few days -- either Mitt Romney or Barack Obama will be forced to take the stage and deliver a speech conceding the election to his rival. It's a painful task: After more than a year of making the case that he spoke for the people, one candidate must humbly admit that the people have spoken -- and chose the other guy. Here are six examples of candidates who utterly failed to step gracefully away from the limelight.

Richard Nixon, 1962

It's hard to imagine how Richard Nixon returned to political prominence from the nadir of what he wrongly declared his "last press conference," after losing the 1962 California governor's race. Nixon's remarks, a bravura display of self-pity, have widely been derided as the worst concession speech in U.S. history: "I leave you gentlemen now and you will write it," he told the assembled reporters. "Just think how much you're going to be missing. You won't have Nixon to kick around any more." 

It wasn't the first time Nixon's distaste for concession speeches left a sour taste in supporters' and opponents' mouths alike. He refused to deliver his own concession speech after losing the 1960 presidential election, instead sending out a staff member to read a short statement. The election's victor, John F. Kennedy, privately eviscerated Nixon as he watched from Hyannis Port: "He went out the way he came in -- no class."

Jacques Parizeau, 1995

In the mid-1990s, it seemed as if the French-speaking residents of Quebec might finally muster enough votes to secede from Canada and establish an independent state. Quebec's newly elected premier, Jacques Parizeau, was a staunch supporter of independence and called a referendum to turn the idea into a reality.

The referendum was narrowly defeated, with 49.4 percent of Québécois voting in favor of secession and 50.6 percent voting against. But it was Parizeau's disastrous speech to his supporters following the defeat that hardened many citizens' feelings against secession. His address was a hard-edged appeal for ethnic solidarity directed to French-Canadians, referring to the group as "us" -- presumably to the exclusion of the rest of his fellow countrymen. "It's true we were beaten, yes, but by what?" he asked. "By money and ethnic votes, essentially."

ANDRE PICHETTE/AFP/Getty Images

Andrés Manuel López Obrador, 2006 and 2012

The leftist politician nicknamed El Peje -- after a "tenacious river fish" -- is the perpetual also-ran in Mexican politics. Obrador lost the 2006 presidential election by a razor-thin margin, and then went on to be defeated convincingly in the 2012 presidential election. In neither case, however, did he present himself a gracious loser in defeat.

In the 2006 campaign, Obrador declared himself the winner on election night and -- disobeying the election commission's request -- went on to call himself "president of Mexico" as the votes were tallied in the days ahead. Even after Felipe Calderón was declared the winner by 0.58 percent of the votes, the closest in Mexico's history, Obrador approved a ceremony where his supporters declared him the country's "legitimate president."

The 2012 presidential election was no nail-biter -- Obrador lost to Enrique Peña Nieto by roughly 3.5 million votes -- but El Peje's reaction was all too familiar. He once again refused to concede, petitioning the electoral commission to invalidate the election on the grounds of fraud. If the results were allowed to stand, he warned, "a gang of criminals" would be placed in power.

ALFREDO ESTRELLA/AFP/Getty Images

Ahmed Shafiq, 2012

Egypt's 2012 presidential election wasn't just the country's first since longtime autocrat Hosni Mubarak was forced to step down -- it was also the first time in history that its citizens got to choose their leader in a free and fair ballot.

The choice in the June runoff election couldn't have been starker: Voters went to the polls to cast their ballots for either long-time Muslim Brotherhood leader Mohammed Morsy or longtime Mubarak ally and former prime minister Ahmed Shafiq. Morsy was declared the winner on June 24, capturing 52 percent of the vote to Shafiq's 48 percent.

The election's aftermath would have been the perfect opportunity for Shafiq to concede gracefully, signaling to his supporters that the popular will and democratic norms must be respected. Instead, when Shafiq supporters looked around for their standard-bearer in the days following the campaign, he was nowhere to be found. Not only did he not deliver a concession speech, he fled to the Persian Gulf less than 48 hours after the results were announced.

The real reaction to Shafiq's defeat was delivered by his campaign staff in Cairo, who murmured darkly about a conspiracy to steal the election and attacked the newly elected president. "I will no longer be proud to be Egyptian under a country led by the Muslim Brotherhood's Morsy," said one disgruntled advisor. "I want to leave Egypt as soon as possible."

MARCO LONGARI/AFP/GettyImages

Slobodan Milosevic, 2000

Slobodan Milosevic committed much larger offenses than election fraud -- genocide and crimes against humanity top the list -- but that didn't stop the longtime Serbian strongman from trying to skew the polls when they weren't going his way.

On Sept. 24, 2000, voters in Yugoslavia went to the ballot box to elect their next president -- the first time they had done so -- in a move widely seen as an attempt by Milosevic to secure his hold on power. But something unexpected happened: The famously fractious Serbian opposition united behind one candidate, the constitutional lawyer Vojislav Kostunica, and drubbed Milosevic at the ballot box. While the opposition claimed to have won 55 percent of the vote, the government-controlled election commission asserted that Kostunica had failed to win a majority -- thus requiring a second round.

The ruling sparked fury on the streets of Belgrade, and hundreds of thousands of Serbians took to the streets to demand Milosevic's immediate resignation. When it became clear that the army would not keep him in power, Milosevic conceded to the popular will.

"I would also like to thank those who did not vote for me because they took a huge weight off my chest, the burden of responsibility which I have carried for a full 10 years," he said in his vainglorious resignation speech. "I personally intend to rest a bit and spend some more time with my family."

That last hope, however, was not to be. Less than a year later, Milosevic was imprisoned and transferred to the custody of the United Nations, where he stood trial for crimes committed during the Kosovo War. He would die of a heart attack in his prison cell six years later.

Couple/Globalphoto.com/Liaison

Laurent Gbagbo, 2010

Laurent Gbagbo's mistake was holding elections in the first place. The Ivory Coast president was still in power in 2010, even though his mandate had expired in 2005. But while he postponed the vote numerous times, international pressure finally forced his hand -- Gbagbo was known to complain that he was "obliged to carry out the [French] Revolution of 1789 under the scrutiny of Amnesty International."

The election went ahead in November 2010, setting the stage for a showdown between Gbagbo and Alassane Ouattara. Like strongmen everywhere, Gbagbo seemed shocked to find his people's undying loyalty in doubt: When the election commission declared Ouattara the winner with 54.1 percent of the vote, he simply refused to relinquish power. Many observers suspected nothing less from a candidate who used the campaign slogan: "We win or we win."  

Both Gbagbo and Ouattara took the oath of office, leading to escalating violence between the two candidates' supporters that eventually devolved into civil war. "We are not going to give up," Gbagbo said, painting a portrait of an international conspiracy to oust him from power. "Our greatest duty to our country is to defend it from foreign attack."

U.N. and French forces eventually did help oust Gbagbo from power, ending the four-month civil war and eventually resulting in his extradition to the International Criminal Court. The former president, however, never abandoned his attempts to play on his people's fears of colonialism: As he put it, "I find it absolutely incredible that the life of a country is played out, in a game of poker, in foreign capitals."

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The List

8 Ways the World Has Changed Since Obama's Election

With Election Day finally upon us, it's worth reflecting on what a difference four years makes.

During the 2012 presidential election, Republicans assailed President Barack Obama's economic record by invoking Ronald Reagan's famous question: Are you better off than you were four years ago?

What if we asked the same question about the world? Four years is a long time, and you might be surprised by just how much has changed since Obama was elected in 2008. Here's a look at eight of the most important and interesting trends.

TECH REVOLUTION

Yes, the world had iPhones four years ago and Facebook, Twitter, and Reddit were all part of the webscape, but the face of technology has changed dramatically since the last election -- most notably by reaching roughly a billion more people. Since November 2008, the number of Internet users worldwide has soared from roughly 1.5 to roughly 2.5 billion -- a 40 percent increase. At the same time, the number of Facebook users increased tenfold from 100 million to more than 1 billion and the average number of Tweets per day increased from around 300,000 to 340 million. (During the hour-and-a-half-long presidential debate in Denver, Twitter fanatics posted more than 10 million times.)

Just how much the speed of technological change has affected world politics still a matter for debate, but it seems clear that Twitter and Facebook played at least some role in the uprisings that spread across the Arab world in 2011. The Occupy movement, too, made use of social media and, perhaps more creatively, harnessed the power of drones -- now sold privately for as little as $300 -- to monitor police brutality. (Watch this video from Occupy Warsaw.) Other technological advances that were perhaps unimaginable back in 2008 include private space travel, radar that can see through walls, and mosquito lasers.

ECONOMIC MALAISE

At this time four years ago, Lehman Brothers had only recently collapsed, Japan still had a larger economy than China, and European leaders had yet to hold their first debt crisis summit. Unfortunately, this period of great change has not brought much relief to a sluggish global economy. The International Labor Organization estimates that the global unemployment rate has risen from 5.6 percent in 2008 to a projected 6 percent in 2012 (with more than 200 million people currently out of work around the world out of 3.3 billion workers), and reports that the 2011 global employment rate of 60.3 percent is 0.9 percentage points lower than before the recession -- translating into 50 million "missing" jobs in the world economy. As youth and long-term unemployment rise, poverty rates and inequality have also increased in half of the world's advanced economies and one-third of the world's developing economies, heightening the risk of social unrest everywhere from Europe to North Africa. World gross product has recovered after falling 2.4 percent in 2009, but growth is decelerating, raising the specter of another economic downturn afflicting developed and developing countries alike.

The United States is still the largest economy in the world, but over the course of Obama's term China has overtaken Japan as the world's second-largest economy and Brazil has surpassed Britain as the world's sixth-largest. Meanwhile, the United States has fallen from first place in the World Economic Forum's 2008-2009 Global Competitiveness Index to seventh place in the organization's 2012-2013 ranking (Switzerland now tops the list). The report praised the country's innovative corporate sector, first-class university system, and flexible labor markets but raised alarm bells about its partisan gridlock and wasteful spending. "A lack of macroeconomic stability continues to be the country's greatest area of weakness," the study concluded.

ARCTIC SEA MELT

Four years is too short of an interval to meaningfully capture the extent of climate change, but one area that stands out for its rapid deterioration is Arctic sea melt. Every summer, part of the Arctic Ocean melts away and historically, about half of it is gone by September. Since scientists began monitoring ice melt in the 1970s, however, melting has accelerated substantially so that ice now covers only about a quarter of the Arctic Ocean at its lowest point. Even in the last four years, the low point -- the day when melting stops and the sea begins to gradually freeze over again -- has dropped appreciably, from 1.61 million square miles of ice coverage (29 percent of the Arctic Ocean) in 2008 to 1.32 million square miles (24 percent of the Arctic Ocean) in 2012.

The average ice extent for the month of September, a standard measure for the study of Arctic sea ice, tells a similar story. In 2008, it stood at 1.80 million square miles, whereas this year it clocked in at 1.39 million square miles -- 48.7 percent below average and the lowest level in the satellite era. Arctic ice is disappearing so quickly that Peter Wadhams, a Cambridge University professor who has been collecting data on ice thickness from submarines for many years, predicts that the ice will melt completely by 2015 or 2016.

GLOBAL HEALTH ADVANCES

Because of the significant time lag for most data on global health trends, it's difficult to paint a comprehensive picture of how the fight against disease has fared over the last four years. Even so, it's clear that there have been some significant victories: India, which in 2009 had the highest incidence of polio in the world, has been removed from the World Health Organizations polio-endemic list, leaving Nigeria, Pakistan, and Afghanistan as the lone holdouts in the fight against the crippling childhood disease.

Meanwhile, the last four years has seen a 132 percent increase in the number of people with access to preventative malaria measures and the preliminary results have been positive. Between 2008 and 2010, the last year for which the World Health Organization has data, the number of annual malaria deaths dropped from nearly 863,000  to 655,000 -- and this while the world's population increased by almost 200 million. At the same time, researchers have made substantial progress toward a malaria vaccine -- which reduced the incidence of the tropical disease by 50 percent in a 2011 clinical trial in Africa -- though there is growing concern about the spread of drug-resistant strains of malaria, especially in Southeast Asia.

Programs like the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief and the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria have also made substantial gains in the fight against HIV/AIDS -- so much so that New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof recently wrote about the plight of out-of-work coffin makers in Lesotho. There are still roughly 2.7 million new infections annually around the world, but according to the 2011 UNAIDS report, both infections and deaths are on the wane.

DICTATOR DEMOGRAPHICS

The jury is still out on the so-called Arab Spring, but the last four years have been an unmitigated disaster for some of the world's worst and longest-serving rulers (known at FP as the committee to destroy the world). Not only did angry publics force out aging strongmen in Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen, and Libya -- who had ruled for a combined 116 years -- but a surprising number of dictators from all over the world have kicked the bucket since Obama was elected. In December 2008, Lansana Conté died in office, ending an illustrious 24-year stint as president of Guinea, during which the West African country was consistently rated among the most corrupt on the planet. A year later, the world bid farewell to the notoriously self-obsessed Omar Bongo, who had spent the previous 41 years running oil-rich Gabon as his personal estate. In the last year, North Korean enigma Kim Jong Il and Ethiopian strongman Meles Zenawi both died unexpectedly. The two had 38 years of leadership experience between them.

MORE REFUGEES, FEWER MIGRANTS

The past four years have produced two storylines when it comes to migration patterns. First, the Arab Spring has produced major outflows of migrants and refugees from countries such as Libya and Syria. According to the United Nations, 335,000 Syrian refugees have registered with the international body and 700,000 Syrians could flee the violence in their country by the end of 2012, while more than 1 million people have displaced inside Syria. As was the case with Libya, most Syrians are seeking refuge in neighboring countries rather than in Europe -- in Syria's case, mainly Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, and Turkey. We know that the number of refugees worldwide increased from 15.2 million people in 2008 to 16 million in 2010, but there's no data yet on just what kind of impact the uprisings in the Middle East have had on overall refugee trends.

More broadly, the global economic recession has slowed migration to the world's wealthiest countries. The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development notes that the number of labor migrants to OECD countries dropped from 880,000 in 2007 to 780,000 in 2010, though preliminary 2011 figures suggest that migration to most European OECD members has since increased. This spring, the Pew Hispanic Center reported that after four decades of heavy Mexican migration to the United States, the "net migration flow" of Mexicans to the United States had stopped and possibly even reversed. A more recent report suggests Mexican migration to the United States may be increasing again, but the recession-induced dropoff is still remarkable.

DEMOCRACY SETBACKS

The Arab uprisings may have rid the world of some of its least savory leaders, but over the last four years the world has actually become less democratic. According to the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU), which analyzes global democracy trends, the number of "full democracies" in the world declined by 16.7 percent between 2008 and 2011, the last year for which data is available. At the same time, the number of "flawed democracies" and "authoritarian regimes" increased by 5.7 and 3.8 percent respectively, while "hybrid regimes" remained constant. Freedom House, which also conducts research on governance trends, reports that 2011 "marks the sixth consecutive year in which countries with [democratic] declines outnumbered those with improvements."

Most of the damage is due to democratic backsliding in the Middle East, Africa, and Eastern Europe, though even the United States took a hit. Between 2008 and 2011, the United States slipped from 18th to 19th on EIU's Democracy Index, with a noticeable drop in its "functioning of government" score, one of the five metrics on which countries are rated.

PROGRESS ON PEACE

Measuring world peace is, as the Economist has pointed out, akin to describing "how happiness smells." Nonetheless, the Australia-based Institute for Economics and Peace publishes an annual Global Peace Index that rates the peacefulness of countries on a variety of indicators, including internal and external conflict, military spending, and respect for human rights. Their findings suggest that the world is ever so slightly more peaceful today than it was in 2008. The average score (based on a 1-5 scale, 1 being the most peaceful) for nations surveyed in 2012 was 2.011, whereas the average score in 2008 was 2.043. Steve Killelea, the survey's founder, told Reuters that the decline was due reduced military spending -- in part, because of the global financial crisis -- as well as declining violence in Africa. "The improvement in relation with the states and a greater reluctance to resort to war is very profound, particularly in Africa," he said.

The Global Peace Index findings, however limited, fit into a larger pattern identified by scholars like Steven Pinker that suggests violence has declined appreciably throughout history and especially during the 20th century. For most of human history, Pinker argues, life was indeed "nasty, brutish, and short" and if "the death rate in tribal warfare had prevailed during the 20th century ... there would have been 2 billion deaths from wars and homicide, rather than 100 million." It's a compelling argument as we contemplate the world full of global threats that will greet the next U.S. president.