Can We Learn Anything From Losers

Published: Good Men Project (January 13, 2015)

Matthew Rozsa looks for lessons in the lives and legacies of the presidential ‘Also Rans.’

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I have looked by the way at what happens to anybody in this country who loses as the nominee of their party. They become a loser for life, alright?
—Mitt Romney, from the documentary, Mitt

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There is something oddly poignant about the plight of America’s “Also Rans,” the 38 men throughout our history who were officially nominated as the presidential candidate of a major party only to lose in the general election. Of those 38, only nine were ever given a second chance by being renominated; and of those nine only four actually won in one of their subsequent attempts—Thomas Jefferson, Andrew Jackson, William H. Harrison, and Richard M. Nixon. As Irving Stone put it in his classic biographical collection, “They Also Ran”:

… the curiosity about the new personality is gone, the novelty has worn off, the issues have changed. The electorate is fickle; it wants a new political romance with each election. Too many charges have been hurled by the opposition; the strength of the case against the candidate is known. Americans will root for the underdog at a prize fight or football game but not in a presidential race.

The other 34 are left with nothing but the ignominy of being forever remembered as—to use Romney’s own brutally perceptive description—“a loser for life.” As signs abound that Romney may try to shed his Also Ran status through another presidential bid in 2016, this would be a great time to glean what we can about the broader lessons we can learn from our nation’s other Also Rans.

  1.   Our legacies define not only how others view us as men, but how we view ourselves.

Of all the Also Rans who never became president, perhaps none was as fortunate as Samuel J. Tilden. One of only four Also Rans who won the popular vote while losing in the general election, he is also among only two who was never elected in a follow-up effort (the other being Al Gore). While Gore reacted to his defeat by becoming an advocate for climate change prevention (more on that in a moment), Tilden accepted the fact that he would never be president with a telling observation:

I can retire to private life with the consciousness that I shall receive from posterity the credit of having been elected to the highest position in the gift of the people, without any of the cares and responsibilities of the office.

While this can be interpreted as a dry attempt at comedy, there is a certain sagacity to Tilden’s insight. After all, contemporary observers and future historians generally agree that Tilden was the victim of electoral fraud at the hands of his Republican opponents (who put Rutherford Hayes in the White House over him). As Tilden saw it, one of the emotional advantages of being president was knowing that you had been given the greatest “gift” that the American people could bestow upon one of its citizens. When he noted that he had been lucky to receive this gift while being spared any of its concurrent headaches, Tilden had a point.

Unfortunately for every other Also Ran (sans Gore), the American people’s gift was ultimately given to their sworn opponent, thus depriving them of the comfort that Tilden derived from his own outcome. This brings us to George McGovern, the Democratic presidential nominee in 1972. One day he serendipitously encountered Walter Mondale, the Democratic presidential nominee in 1984. Both McGovern and Mondale had been defeated under very similar circumstances, losing by 49 out of 50 states and a 3-to-2 popular vote margin to Republican incumbents (Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan, respectively). Naturally, Mondale asked McGovern how long it took to get over the pain of his loss. McGovern’s reply?

I’ll let you know when I get there.

This brings us to the next point…

  1.   Accept the pain of failure when it happens.

Not every Also Ran has ultimately overcome the pain of loss. The most conspicuous example of this is Horace Greeley, the Democratic presidential nominee in 1872, who actually went insane from the viciousness of the attacks made against him (which he felt caused his wife’s death during the campaign) and the devastation of his landslide loss to President Ulysses S. Grant. Before the Electoral College could even convene for the casting of ballots, Greeley had emotionally tortured himself into an early grave.

Of course, even Also Rans who don’t suffer as dramatically as Greeley can still be destroyed by the experience. Alfred E. Smith, the Democratic presidential candidate in 1928, was so embittered by his misfortune at having been nominated in a year when the Republicans were bound to win (i.e., during the prosperity of the 1920s) that he nursed a lifelong grudge against the Democrat who was lucky enough to run against Herbert Hoover during the Great Depression, Franklin D. Roosevelt. Despite laying the foundations for many of the programs that Roosevelt eventually implemented as president, Smith could never accept that fate had been so unkind to him, and consequently spent the rest of his career denouncing everything he had once supported out of envy for the man who was receiving primary credit for them.

The main difference between Greeley and Smith is that the former was unable to physically move beyond the intense emotions he felt during his own battle, while the latter moved past them in body but not in spirit. On both occasions, however, each man’s downfall occurred because he allowed his sense of failure to define how he viewed himself. Whether by dying or abandoning his own values, both proved unable to preserve the men they were when plunged into the abyss of defeat.

And what of the vast majority of people, who were neither as blessed in their failures as Tilden or as cursed as Greeley? Fortunately, there are hopeful examples for them to follow …

  1.   Be proactive in making sure that your failure doesn’t become the end of your story.

One strong thread ties all of the happiest Also Rans together: Despite knowing that they would never rank among America’s rarefied litany of presidents, each one found some way of continuing their personal journey after the votes had been counted.

Sometimes this happened through a single defining moment. Henry Clay, who along with William Jennings Bryan has the dubious distinction of losing in three general elections (1824, 1832, and 1844), mustered all of his considerable political skill toward staving off a civil war by throwing his weight behind the Compromise of 1850; Stephen Douglas, despite having been personal rivals with Abraham Lincoln (his Republican opponent in 1860) since they were youths, set aside his feelings and toured the South on his erstwhile nemesis’s behalf in a vain attempt to convince them not to secede; and Wendell Willkie, despite losing to Franklin Roosevelt in a very bitter campaign as the Republican presidential nominee in 1940, urged the large isolationist wing in his own party to back the president as he led America through World War II.

On other occasions, this has entailed returning to their roots. Charles Evans Hughes had resigned from the Supreme Court to accept the Republican presidential nomination in 1916, coming very close to actually defeating President Woodrow Wilson in the process. Despite his disappointment, Hughes wasted no time in returning to politics and the law; as such, when Chief Justice William H. Taft (the only former president to serve on the Supreme Court) passed away in 1930, Hughes was in an excellent position to be appointed as his successor. Similarly, John McCain has not only continued with his work in the Senate since losing to Obama, but has consistently supported hawkish foreign policy positions not only against a Democratic president, but even against members of his own party (including libertarians like Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky). Having entered politics because of his passion for a muscular foreign policy, it is fitting that McCain should spend the end of his career fighting for those same values.

Then there are the Also Rans who managed to reinvent themselves … although even then, it was usually by tapping into their deeper passions. James G. Blaine, the Republican nominee in 1884, was appointed Secretary of State by President Benjamin Harrison and proceeded to launch a bold new direction in America’s foreign policy with Latin America. Adlai E. Stevenson, the Democratic nominee in 1952 and 1956, served under Presidents John Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson as America’s ambassador to the United Nations, particularly distinguishing himself during the Cuban Missile Crisis. Finally there is Al Gore, who had been ahead of the political curve in focusing on the perils of man-made global warming before running for president (or serving as vice president) and resumed that role after the success of his 2006 documentary, An Inconvenient Truth.

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As these examples demonstrate, it is possible to overcome the agony of defeat. It isn’t even necessary to slough off the strong emphasis that American culture places on professional success. That said, one must avoid the pitfalls of bitterness and self-torture that can easily rise up after an ineffable and defining loss. Should Mitt Romney decide against running in 2016, or should he do so only to lose either the nomination or general election a second time, he would be well-advised to turn to his Also Ran counterparts for wisdom.

Footnote: This list obviously doesn’t include incumbent presidents who lost bids for another term in office or the four Also Rans who were elected on another try (Jefferson, Jackson, Harrison, and Nixon). The list starts with the election of 1804, after the passage of the Twelfth Amendment required presidential tickets to specifically designate which candidates were respectively running for president and vice president (confusion over this matter prompted an electoral college crisis during the 1800 election). It includes Charles Pickney (Federalist – 1804, 1808), DeWitt Clinton (Federalist – 1812), Rufus King (Federalist – 1816), Henry Clay (Democratic-Republican – 1824, National Republican – 1832, Whig – 1844), Lewis Cass (Democrat – 1848), Winfield Scott (Whig – 1852), John C. Fremont (Republican – 1856), Stephen A. Douglas (Democrat – 1860), George B. McClellan (Democrat – 1864), Horatio Seymour (Democrat – 1868), Horace Greeley (Democrat/Liberal Republican – 1872), Samuel J. Tilden (Democrat – 1876), Winfield S. Hancock (Democrat – 1880), James G. Blaine (Republican – 1884), William J. Bryan (Democrat – 1896, 1900, 1908), Alton B. Parker (Democrat – 1904), Charles E. Hughes (Republican – 1916), James M. Cox (Democrat – 1920), John W. Davis (Democrat – 1924), Alfred E. Smith (Democrat – 1928), Alfred M. Landon (Republican – 1936), Wendell L. Willkie (Republican – 1940), Thomas E. Dewey (Republican – 1944, 1948), Adlai E. Stevenson (Democrat – 1952, 1956), Barry M. Goldwater (Republican – 1964), Hubert H. Humphrey (Democrat – 1968), George S. McGovern (Democrat – 1972), Walter F. Mondale (Democrat – 1984), Michael S. Dukakis (Democrat – 1988), Robert J. Dole (Republican – 1996), Albert A. Gore (Democrat – 2000), John F. Kerry (Democrat – 2004), John S. McCain (Republican – 2008), and Willard “Mitt” Romney (Republican – 2012).

Netflix’s New Mitt Romney Doc, Summed Up in One Dumb GIF

Published: mic (January 27, 2014)

“I think I’m a flawed candidate.”

You pretty much hit the nail on the head there, Mitt Romney.

The central narrative arc in Mitt, the new Netflix documentary chronicling Romney’s two presidential campaigns, is that of a candidate who aims for the highest office in the country only to return, heartbroken, to ordinary life. The film, while failing to reveal anything new about the inner workings of American politics, is reasonably effective at humanizing Romney (which seems to be its primary goal). It does so by applying the Deschanel treatment to its subject: striving to paint him as quirky and loveable.

This approach can be summed up in a single GIF (of a grown man ironing a shirt like he a 3rd grader):

“Ouch!”

One can’t help but empathize with the guy. The film isn’t powerful enough to make us feel like we know him well, but we do know that he was clearly terrified of losing. There is even a prophetic moment near the beginning where he talks about how he doesn’t want to be remembered as a “loser” or a “laughingstock.” If director Greg Whiteley’s goal was to show us that even Mitt Romney can deserve sympathy, he succeeded.

Of course, none of that means we should have voted for him or that it’s wrong to laugh.

Netflix Mitt Romney Documentary Shows Never-Before Seen Human Side

Published: mic (December 19, 2013)

The official trailer for Mitt, a new documentary chronicling former Governor Mitt Romney’s six-year campaign for the American presidency, is utterly tantalizing. It is a rare, up-close look at the erstwhile candidate in his natural habitat of campaign rallies, debate stages, and awkward photo ops.

In it, the Mitt displays an astounding amount of surprise upon realizing that he is going to lose the 2012 election, despite the vast majority of independent polls at the time indicating his impending defeat. He reveals having not put any forethought into writing a concession speech and, in a tense moment, realizes he does not even have the president’s phone number.

Be moved as the film reveals the Mitt’s human traits — laughing and expressing emotion with friends and family, wrestling with his wife in the snow, crying during periods of intense stress. In this trailer, there are no signs of the Mitt pouncing on his natural prey — the so-called 47% — many of whose jobs he and his flock of vulture capitalists picked clean with astonishing machine-like efficiency.

Gaze in awe at the irony of the Mitt explaining how every major presidential nominee becomes a loser for life…and wonder if he regrets these words.

Study the Mitt’s remarkable self-awareness in realizing that he will never be able to purge his flip-flopper image, as he draws the same conclusion shared by millions of Americans at the time — that he might very well be a “flawed candidate.”

Speculate as to whether, when this is released on DVD, Little Face Mitt will appear in the cover art.

Ron Paul Shamefully Absent in History Book on 2012 Election

Published: mic (November 12, 2013)

Double Down, the new book on the 2012 presidential election by John Heilemann and Mark Helperin, falls short in one way that has been overlooked by the media. While it contains nifty insider tidbits about Barack Obama, Mitt Romney, and other major players from that epic political battle, it overlooks one man whose influence may prove as lasting as the others — Texas Congressman Ron Paul.

Believe me, I’m not writing this as a diehard Paulbot (as one of my more controversial comic articles on this site can attest). While I agree with some of his views on social and foreign policy, his zealotry for the gospel of Austrian economics, regular distortion of American constitutional history, and disturbingly cultish following are all significant turnoffs in my book. Like him or not, however, the historian in me recognizes that he had an enormous – and most likely lasting – impact on the shape of American politics. To overlook this fact in a work meant to chronicle the 2012 election is downright negligent.

Allow me to explain with an analogy. One of my favorite historical elections is the Nixon-Humphrey-Wallace contest in 1968, thanks not only to its unusually high melodrama (this was the year of the Lyndon Johnson renunciation, the Tet Offensive, the Martin Luther King assassination, the Robert Kennedy assassination, the Chicago Democratic Convention riots .…) but its role as a milestone in the integration of radicalism into the mainstreams of both major parties. This had little to do with the major party nominees themselves, as both Republican candidate Richard Nixon and Democratic candidate Hubert Humphrey were moderates representing the center-right and center-left, respectively. Instead the lasting ideological influence came from the fringes; on one extreme was third-party candidate George Wallace, who managed to bring racist politicking into the post-civil rights legislation world by coding it in ultra-rightist rhetoric, and on the other were the New Leftists who either supported Kennedy or Eugene McCarthy’s presidential bids or conspicuously “dropped out” of established politics altogether. Although there had been forces pushing both parties farther to their respective extremes before 1968 (such as Barry Goldwater’s doomed Republican candidacy in 1964 or the radicalization of college campuses throughout the 1960s), 1968 was the turning point year. When Wallace picked up 13.5% of the popular vote and 45 electoral votes, President-elect Nixon and future Republicans realized that their future relied on adopting his tactics, a gambit that helped them win seven of the ten pre-Obama elections (including 1968 itself, in which Nixon used a lighter version of Wallace’s own rhetoric). The left, meanwhile, was largely disempowered as a result of this election, with the New Left’s neo-isolationism and countercultural ideas turning off large chunks of the New Deal coalition that had been responsible for Democrats winning seven of the previous nine post-FDR contests.

Shortly after the election, two popular books were released that attempted to cover it — An American Melodrama: The Presidential Campaign of 1968 by Lewis Chester, Godfrey Hodgson, and Bruce Page and The Making of the President — 1968 by Theodore H. White. While both books vividly recall the personalities and events of that year, An American Melodrama is distinguished by its remarkable insight into deeper ideological dynamics. Whole chapters are devoted to dispassionately deconstructing Wallace’s third-party candidacy and the various facets of the New Left (to say nothing of the incipient attempt of Ronald Reagan to revive the Goldwater movement against Nixon, the growing role of advertisers and PR men in handling candidates’ images, the media’s own role in manipulating public emotions, and much more).

The Making of the President — 1968, on the other hand, is almost shockingly dismissive of anything outside the bounds of conventional politics. Wallace only appears six times, on each occasion briefly, before page 400 (in a 508 page book), and even after that is given only cursory attention, with White entirely failing to see the sophistication of his coded rhetoric and even cozying up to the GOP by claiming that “Nixon conspicuously, conscientiously, calculatedly denied himself all racist votes, yielding them to Wallace.” The New Left, meanwhile, was ignored entirely, with its members being lumped in with other groups — the Kennedy and McCarthy campaigns, the pre-existing civil rights and antiwar protest groups, the “crazies” (i.e., counterculturalists) who “sprout everywhere” and were dismissed as “a giant put-on, a visual pun, a strolling farce of lost and forlorn people” who bring tears to the eyes at “their diseases (mainly venereal), their health (decayed from malnutrition and drugs), and the disturbances, rarely dangerous, of their minds” — instead of recognized for their distinctive characteristics. Because White didn’t identify with either extreme, he refused to even attempt to project its potential future in American politics. Needless to say, his book suffered greatly as a result.

This brings us back to Double Down. Despite devoting entire sections to figures who, though media darlings, played either minor roles in the election (Chris Christie) or virtually none at all (Donald Trump), the book only mentions Ron Paul 12 times, 11 of them in passing. Indeed, whereas White at least had the presence of mind to recognize that movements existed in the New Left and behind Wallace, Heilemann and Helperin barely do that, with their most detailed reference to the Paul campaign occurring on page 237:

“As for Ron Paul, his radical libertarianism, out-front isolationism, and just plain kookiness — from his abhorrence of paper money to his ties to the John Birch Society — made him more likely to end up on a park bench feeding stale bread to the squirrels than become the Republican nominee.”

Compared to this contemptuous dismissiveness, White was downright kind to the hippies.

The point here is not that Heilemann and Helperin should have been kinder to Paul, or for that matter, that they should have been critical of him. What matters here is that Paul was important. He wasn’t a disposable assembly line Republican, be they neocons like Mitt Romney and Jon Huntsman, Tea Partyers like Herman Cain and Michele Bachmann, or Christian right-wingers like Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich (who Heilemann and Helperin inexplicably insist on calling “Santo,” which NEVER gets old). His ideology was something that, if not altogether new (see Calvin Coolidge, Robert Taft), at the very least has not had a spokesman nearly as prominent as Paul in quite a long time. He received more than 2,000,000 votes (or more than 10%) in the primaries, took cyberspace by storm, inspired legions of outspoken followers in every corner of America, and has a son, Rand Paul, whose watered down version of his father’s libertarianism has made him one of the top contenders for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination. Even the actual libertarian candidate that year, Gary Johnson, almost certainly performed better than most third-partyers (although at 1% of the popular vote not enough to dub this election “Obama-Romney-Johnson” as opposed to “Obama-Romney”) because even after Paul bowed out, his movement remained.

In short, Paul and his libertarian acolytes may not have been the whole story in the 2012 election, but that they were major players in that contest and will almost certainly play a big role in upcoming ones. As journalists, Heilemann and Helperin had a professional responsibility to cover that story. By missing it, they did a terrible disservice not only to the libertarian movement, but to themselves. When future historians look to study the Obama-Romney contest, Double Down will be viewed as a great source for gossip, but not much else.

Fiscal Cliff 2013: Mitt Romney Has A Chance To Be The Hero

Published: PolicyMic (November 30, 2012)

I have no idea whether Mitt Romney will ever see this editorial. While I do know at least one of my articles was noticed by the erstwhile Republican candidate’s inner circle (a piece from six months ago that drew complaints from his former foreign policy adviser Richard Grenell), that hardly assures that anything else I write will make its way to him.

Nevertheless, as the partisan gridlock preventing Republicans and Democrats from finding a way off the so-called “fiscal cliff” brings us closer and closer to economic catastrophe, I figure the quixotic hope that Romney will read these words is worth pursuing. After all, America’s fate may hinge on Romney fully appreciating the rare opportunity that has been presented to him:

He has the chance to be remembered by history as a hero among Also Rans.

The term “Also Ran,” for those unfamiliar with it, refers to a presidential aspirant who was nominated by one of the major parties of his time only to be vanquished in the general election. While a handful of Also Rans were sufficiently accomplished to avoid having their legacies be primarily defined by their unsuccessful national candidacies – Henry Clay as America’s premier parliamentarian, Winfield Scott as one of its greatest military commanders, Horace Greeley as a pioneering newspaper editor, Charles Evans Hughes as the Supreme Court’s centrist sage during the New Deal era, Adlai Stevenson and Barry Goldwater as among their respective parties’ most influential intellectual heavyweights and policy innovators – the vast majority of the names in the long litany of Also Rans are obscure to all but the most devoted historical scholars. Because Romney is surely aware of this, few can truly understand the tempest of emotions that must be raging inside of him right now.

This no doubt explains the palpable anguish coiling beneath his controversial post-election comments, which attributed his loss to Obama giving “gifts” to minority voters. Unfortunately for him, those remarks have only worsened his likely standing among future historians, who are rarely kind to Also Rans they believe to have been sore losers.

On the other hand, when an Also Ran sets aside his disappointment and works with the man who defeated him in order to achieve a greater good, he is suddenly imbued with the aura of greatness. In one fell swoop he becomes an inspiring figure, a statesman worthy of emulation, a patriot in the deepest sense of the term. His critics may disparage him in other ways, but even his fiercest detractors won’t be able to take away the nobility of his post-election actions – or prevent them from being recalled as his foremost legacy.

The men who have earned this distinction can be counted on one hand. Although not technically an Also Ran, John Adams is widely lauded for peacefully relinquishing power  after losing to Thomas Jefferson in the election of 1800, thereby showing the world that the political experiment known as democracy could indeed work. There was Stephen Douglas in 1860, who despite a lifelong rivalry with Abraham Lincoln toured the South to calm their hysterical reactions to Lincoln’s impending election and prevent the mass secessions that he knew would trigger a Civil War (even putting himself in considerable physical peril in the process). More than 80 years later, Wendell Willkie performed a comparable service to his country by urging Americans to support Franklin Roosevelt’s leadership during World War II, despite the fact that both men continued to strongly disagree on the economic policy questions that had defined their respective campaigns in the 1940 presidential election.

If Mitt Romney works with President Obama on a compromise both men can support and then uses his clout to openly push for that measure’s passage, his name will be added to this list. Not only will he have played a crucial role in preventing an economic disaster, but he will have demonstrated that bipartisanship is possible even in times as fiercely divisive as our own. This may not remove the sting of knowing that he will never be able to serve as president (as George McGovern once observed to Walter Mondale, the hurt never fully wears off), but it will serve as an admirable close to Romney’s career in national politics.

Instead of being remembered as just another forgettable Also Ran, he will be cited as an example of the very best that exists in America’s unique political character. More important, Romney will have rendered an invaluable service to his country.

For more on defeated presidential candidates, I highly recommend Irving Stone’s classic book, “They Also Ran.”

Happy Birthday Joe Biden: Tribute to the Man Who Helped Obama Get Reelected

Published: The Morning Call (November 20, 2012), PolicyMic (November 20, 2012)

In honor of Joe Biden’s 70th birthday, I think it’s time he received credit for the indispensable role he played in Barack Obama’s re-election.

Flash back to the week after the first presidential debate. Romney was widely believed to have triumphed over Obama in that forensic exhibition, due in large part to the president’s disinterested showing. After more than a month of maintaining a solid lead over Romney in national polls, Obama’s diffidence had caused his standing to plummet so badly that he was slightly behind in most surveys of the popular vote, as well as gradually losing his electoral college edge. Spirits were low among Democrats, in stark contrast to the euphoria that followed the lackluster Republican National Convention and the calamity of the “47 percent” tape.

By winning the vice presidential debate, Biden began the process of changing that.

Most of us don’t remember it that way now. When people are asked about the cause of Obama’s last-minute turnaround, Hurricane Sandy or the Democrats’ broader demographic base are far more likely to come up as answers. Nevertheless, the data indisputably shows that before the Biden-Ryan debate, Romney was gaining political momentum at a steady clip. Viewers of the debate (the third most watched vice presidential debate in history) were much more likely to view Biden as having won (50% to 31% according to a CBS poll of uncommitted voters and 42% to 35% to a Reuters poll, with CNN only giving Ryan a 48% to 44% edge because it accidentally polled 8% more Republicans than the general population). After the debate, Romney’s political momentum had been significantly slowed down, if not entirely halted.

The reason for this is simple. After watching Obama spend most of the first debate carefully avoid saying anything that might appear too bold or risky, voters were now treated to Biden’s brazen pugnacity.

When Ryan tried to make political hay over the Benghazi attack, Biden disdainfully referred to his assertions as “a bunch of malarkey” before thoroughly deconstructing the flaws in that line of GOP criticism. He was similarly succinct in his condemnation of Ryan’s claim that Obama had allowed Iran to get closer to developing a nuclear weapon, memorably summing up his objections with the declaration that “Facts matter.” As Ryan launched into a boilerplate attack on Obama’s stimulus legislation, Biden called out his hypocrisy by pointing to letters the Wisconsin Congressman had sent to the vice president personally asking for stimulus funds for his own constituents. Later, when Ryan tried to pass off his Medicare plan as bipartisan, Biden embarrassed him by refusing to let him ignore that not one prominent Democrat – including the Senator from Oregon and former Clinton budget director who initially helped him put it together – still supported Ryan’s final proposal.

In short, Biden was willing to give as good as he got from Ryan, and nothing inspires Americans more than a sign that one of their political leaders has guts.

This isn’t to overstate the importance of the Biden-Ryan debate or claim that it deserves primary credit for turning things around. Even the best vice presidential candidates haven’t been able to carry elections when the top halves of their tickets were wanting, as Lloyd Bentsen famously learned when his trouncing of Dan Quayle in the 1988 vice presidential debate failed to translate into votes for Michael Dukakis. Nevertheless, Biden’s victory was the key first step in restoring political vitality to a campaign that had seemed dangerously close to becoming moribund following Obama’s performance in the first debate. It showed that Democrats had just as much as fight in them as Republicans, that as Franklin Roosevelt once declared (during his first re-election campaign in 1936), “never before in all our history have these forces [organized money] been so united against one candidate as they stand today. They are unanimous in their hate for me – and I welcome their hatred.”

If Obama wants to fare well in the tough political battles that lie ahead of him over the next four years, he would be well-advised to follow the credo so perfectly articulated by Roosevelt – and so impressively displayed by Biden.

Obama Wins Reelection, But Democrats Should Show Grace in Aftermath of Victory

Published: PolicyMic (November 7, 2012)

“When news of the surrender first reached our lines our men commenced firing a salute of a hundred guns in honor of the victory. I at once sent word, however, to have it stopped. The Confederates were now our prisoners, and we did not want to exult over their downfall.”

By now, most of you probably recognize this quote as the famous passage from Ulysses S. Grant’s memoirs in which he discussed Robert E. Lee’s surrender at Appomattox Court House. Its relevance today should be just as obvious for those of us who care about the integrity and character of our political process…

Now that liberals have won, we need to make sure that we show some class.

In part this is because our opposition has, for the last four years, been so distinctly lacking in that quality. Few political movements have shown the level of vitriol toward a single president as that displayed by the Tea Party against President Barack Obama since early 2009. What’s worse, the various groups who support liberalism have been victimized by attacks unprecedented in their viciousness — women for demanding the right to control their own bodies (see Todd Akin and Richard Mourdock, the contraception controversy), racial minorities for insisting they are just as American as whites (see the bitter race-centric conspiracy theories against Obama, the galvanizing of anti-Hispanic sentiment vis-a-vis the immigration issue), the poor for being victimized by the inherent inequities of post-Reagan capitalism (see Romney’s “47%” comments, the Ayn Randesque rhetoric used by Tea Party protesters). In light of this context, it is very understandable why so many on the left want to gloat.

We need to curb that impulse. In the end, no matter how much we may believe in the correctness of our own cause, it is important to remember that the millions of Americans who supported Mitt Romney were just as sincerely passionate about their own convictions. The agonizing disappointment that we would have felt had Obama lost is precisely what they’re feeling right now. Just as they have a responsibility to avoid behaving like sore losers, so too must we behave like gracious winners.

If we fail to pass this basic test of civility, we will show that we learned nothing from the ugliness of the right-wing’s anti-Obama behavior. Our job must be to observe their example and then demonstrate our superiority to it, not conclude that the vindication of Obama’s reelection justifies diminishing ourselves by emulating it. I am reminded of the concession speech delivered by my personal political hero, Adlai Stevenson, after losing to Dwight Eisenhower 60 years ago. He compared how he felt to the reaction of Abraham Lincoln back when he lost an important election:

“He said he felt like a little boy who had stubbed his toe in the dark. He said that he was too old to cry, but it hurt too much to laugh.”

There, but for the grace of God, goes us. That is why — even as we revel in our happiness for the historic victory achieved for America last night — we need to avoid being cruel toward the people who genuinely believe this great country lost.

Top 4 Reasons Why Exit Poll Results Are Completely Meaningless

Published: PolicyMic (November 6, 2012)

While pundits and pollsters alike will start crowing about the exit poll results soon, the truth is they could not matter less.

Here are the top four reasons why you shouldn’t care about the exit polls:

1) Non-response bias

In 2004, exit polls gave Senator John Kerry such a massive lead over President George W. Bush that Democrats began to prematurely celebrate based on what turned out to be unreliable figures. The same thing happened again in 2008, albeit to a somewhat lesser extent. (Obama did win that year, after all.)

2) Early voting

While the non-response bias may unfairly favor Democrats during exit polling, the disproportionate tendency of liberals to turn out for early voting could have an equivalent effect favoring the Republicans. Weighting and adjusting exit poll returns to account for early voting is an imprecise science at best.

3) Short-term impact

After all, it is the election returns that really make a difference. The law has never declared someone to be president of the United States based on exit polling results. While an obsession with polling makes sense in the days leading up to the election, it’s a tad absurd when hypothetical results will be replaced with the genuine article in a few hours.

4) Post-poll acrimony

This may seem like an odd point to make, but it has to be said. Having been an active political junkie through four presidential election cycles, I can safely that I have never seen anyone react to exit polls in a flattering manner. Recipients of bad news will rend their clothes and beat their chests like medieval flagellants; beneficiaries of good news will strut and crow like obnoxious schoolchildren. It’s just unpleasant.

While this last problem might be tolerable if the exit polls correlated to the actual balloting results or had a direct effect on the election itself, the fact that neither of these things is the case (see points 1 to 3) means that exit polls should be dismissed as so much news static.