Wednesday, September 15, 2010

MPW Classic: A Winner Has Many Parents and a Loser is an Orphan

Back in November 2007, veteran MoCo political activist Kevin Gillogly wrote this post in the wake of the Rockville Mayor's race about election winners and losers. It remains an all-time classic on MPW and has direct relevance for yesterday's results. Here's an excerpt.


Dear Readers, I have been involved in the recently completed Rockville Municipal election and my candidate, Drew Powell, lost. We came in 3rd in a three horse race to be the next Mayor of Rockville. So how do you write a summary of an election where you lose? Carefully, because any criticism of the winning team could be construed as sour grapes when your side lost. Winners get to write the ending, not losers.

The title of this posting is true because elections are a birth. If your side wins you stay up most of the night, lights on, upbeat music playing, passing along good cheer, maybe a cigar, while scores of new found friends are hugging and high fiving each other. It is almost impossible to wipe the smile off of your face. True believers, family and close friends are mixed in with the causal acquaintances where no one cares about distinctions. It is a time to celebrate everything that is good about the American political system. If you lose your party is over in about 10 minutes and those that remain are the one or two true believers sitting in a dimly lit room with the shades drawn looking at each other and saying "what happened?" The hardest part is the self-examination. It is even harder to do when you have been running on raw emotion for the past four days. You are tired but not sleepy, angry but not postal, lonely but not alone, and hungry but not eating. So it is best to give yourself some time to collect your thoughts -- and move away from the ledge.

For first timers (both candidates and the hard core supporters) losing is terrible. Losing sides may think that their world has collapsed but they are wrong. Losing an election is neither war nor death. Emotionally it is akin to breaking up with your first girlfriend (or boyfriend) as a teenager. It is not the end of the world but sure feels like it. Just as teenage love occurs when you do not having the emotional skills to cope with a personal rejection, losing an election tests your core beliefs. It is painful. It is something to be experienced and not posted in a blog. Rejection at the polls requires you to develop your emotional skills. Just like talking to a parent about your first breakup, it helps to have someone who you can talk to about this most public of rejections. That is why campaigns are like adolescence romance it is huge to the teenager but as an adult you know that the youngster's world has not collapsed. There are bigger things ahead. We just don't know what it is. Still losing an election that you are emotionally invested in hurts like heck.

I feel sorry for political activists that have never experienced defeat because they have probably never pushed themselves nor never tested the limits of what government can be: a vehicle for positive change, a place to bring new thinking to old ideas, a chance to leave this place a bit better than before. Isn't that the reason for getting into politics in the first place? But the risk of losing steers many political activists to be safe. And so we get the politics of least resistance. And that leads to middling policy and not true change.

A victory is twice as sweet if it has as its core a previous loss. You appreciate the winning moment more. At the same time, if you never experience a win in politics then you never get the chance to make a difference and you might as well join a gardening club or risk being compared to perennial candidate Harold Stassen.

The Danger In Victory

The danger of an electoral victory is you think you have a mandate to change things that the voters may not have given you. But no one knows the current answer to that future question. After a win you are at your zenith. Plato described in "The Republic" that the ultimate authority should be a citizen king who act as a benevolent dictator. On the morning after an election all winners are benevolent dictators. Unfortunately with each passing day that ultimate authority erodes until the next winning campaign. Still the winners have a mandate to change things as they see fit. And wasn't that the reason for the sacrifice in the first place?

If you lose an election then you find yourself curled away in your own cubby hole reluctant to venture out except to bark at someone. That's not a good thing to do. Remember the sun will come up tomorrow.

It takes guts to run for public office. Regardless of the candidate you should thank them for at least trying. I have never run and don't know if I ever will. But I like to help candidates that can make a community a better place. Unfortunately, last night in Rockville the voters did not want what my side offered.