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Bayoneting the wounded

With the French elections yesterday, I -- along with many others -- have noticed a rush to lay the loss of the Socialist candidate at her own feet, to deflect the public rejection from the movement and solely on to the candidate.

That got me thinking about our own elections, and how we treat losing candidates.

The Republicans, as a general rule, honor those who fight the good fight, but fall short. Bob Dole was never considered a pariah. The first President Bush was respected after he lost to Bill Clinton, Ford was admired enough to briefly be considered Reagan's running mate in 1980. Nixon, of course, was an aberration, as he didn't lose but resigned.

The Democrats, though, turn on their nominees and revile them for the losses. John Kerry is a virtual pariah today. Al Gore spent his time in the wilderness until he re-discovered his Inner Granola. Michael Dukakis and Walter Mondale became national jokes, and Jimmy Carter was a political leper for years. Ted Kennedy was an exception, like Nixon, but Ted Kennedy is a special case anyway.

And then there's Joe Lieberman, who was a good-enough Democrat to serve as the vice-presidential nominee in 2000, but was laughed off the stage when he ran for president in 2004, and drummed out of the party two years later.

There's a case to be made for the Democratic approach. It's almost Spartan -- "return with your shield or on it." This weekend, I watched "Patton" again, and in the legendary opening speech, he declares that "Americans love a winner -- and will not tolerate a loser."

But I don't think that it's overly healthy. It demonstrates a certain lack of loyalty, of fidelity, of maturity. It's like the old stories about Nazis and Soviets in World War II -- where those who retreated were shot, where failure was a capital offense.

And it certainly ought to give the Democrats running for the presidency pause. If they win the primary, they can count on their party to rally behind them for the general election. But if they lose, they can count on that support turning into a lynch mob.


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Comments (14)

Its about victims, control ... (Below threshold)

Its about victims, control and dependency. The Democrats have created the cult of victimhood. They tell almost everyone (and some believe) that they are victims and the government is the only way to save them.

A Democratic loss means the Democrats' followers have no control over their own lives. The Democrats have told them so. That leads to more anger than Republicans who don't see their lives as completely outside their own power.

In Royal's case though, her... (Below threshold)

In Royal's case though, her scare tactic may have backfired. So perhaps some flak is deserved.

Voters felt that the stakes... (Below threshold)

Voters felt that the stakes were high as the turnout for this French election was indeed very high. However, both candidates were far weaker than normal in many regards. Sarkozy may be a great orator, but he's also seen as a demagogue by many, willing to stoop to the lowest common denominator to bolster himself. He certainly won't be beyond picking a silly fight with the U.S. or anyone else simply to make himself look good if he begins to stumble politically. Americans should expect this from Sarkozy who at first supported the U.S. war in Iraq in 2003, but then quickly backtracked from this position when it helped him politically at home. Sarkozy will do what's good for Sarkozy, and no one else.

Royal was an extremely shallow candidate, with more connection to fringe issues such as attacking TV violence or other small fringe issues rather acting more like a well rounded statesman like former Socialist President Francois Mitterand, who was actually a very reliable friend of the U.S. as well as limited any power of the Communists within his coalition government for national security reasons. Ronald Reagan found that he could rely on Mitterand on many important issues for example.

Both candidates actually had a somewhat shallow connection to being "French" in many ways. Sarkozy is the son of Hungarian immigrants and Royal was born in Senegal. If anything this represents the dilution of French society with a huge influx of immigrants, and also begs the question of any Sarkozy hypocritical attacks on immigration when his parents were immigrants. But such hypocrisy is typical of Sarkozy's brand of politics.

The Democratic losers in the U.S. have been the subject for more critical reviews because Democrats are the larger party in the U.S., and should have been able to win if they put together the normal winning coalition of Democrats, independents, and a few disatisfied liberal Republicans. The weakness of their own campaigns raised doubts about them as real party leaders, only causing others in their party to seek a stronger leader somewhere else.

Some GOP losers like Robert Dole or Gerald Ford did as well as they could in putting together the their coalition from their smaller party and appealing to as many voters as possible for views that lacked the more populist working class standards of the Democrats. Some like Robert Dole were decent men, running an impossible campaign against a popular president with a strong economy, in which it's hard to imagine voters supporting change. It was only a series of lagging character questions about the Clintons that even made the election in 1996 as close as it was. Some like comic Bill Maher even voted for Bob Dole that year.

It demonstrates a certai... (Below threshold)

It demonstrates a certain lack of loyalty, of fidelity, of maturity.

I think it's a lot easier to explain than that, Jay, and not nearly so deeply psychological. Very simply, candidates who are expected to win, but don't, get exiled. Democrats always expect to win, no matter the circumstances. Republicans rarely do. We've all been so thoroughly conditioned to think "D = Winner and R = Loser" -- even those of us who are Republicans -- that a Republican who loses isn't seen as a failure, while a Dem who loses is.

I can even offer an exception to test the rule. Look at what happened to George H.W. Bush after he lost to Clinton in 1992. As far as I ever saw, he simply disappeared from politics. He never campaigned for any other candidate; he doesn't seem to play any significant role in party politics; he never acted as "president emeritus;" he isn't seen as an elder statesman. He's simply ignored, except when freakout BDS newsies are looking for something to use against his son, and want to play up the "Daddy doesn't approve" angle.

Combine that with the fact that D presidential candidates have a quite remarkable record of losing through sheer incompetence, and it's not hard to see why D losers are exiled and R losers aren't.

I agree with you. However,... (Below threshold)

I agree with you. However, I believe Gore's meltdown contributed to his image. American's detest sore losers and are warey (sp?) of mental/emotional breakdowns in their leaders. Kerry was just a joke from beginning to end. And, when they want to, they perceive losers (clinton) as winners, no matter what.

Did Jay Tea just Godwin his... (Below threshold)

Did Jay Tea just Godwin his own thread? Awesome. Wizbang just keeps getting better and better.

I think some of the problem... (Below threshold)
Steve L.:

I think some of the problem comes with how a candidate handles defeat. Republicans have tended to handle it in a very dignified manner. They make their concessions speeches andfade away. This leaves a very positive impression in people's minds.

On theother hand, Democrats have tended to throw temper tamtrumms when they lose. Look at Gore in 2000. I suspect that people in his own party thought that he went overboard. Sure, some didn't think he went far nough, but others ended with a bad impression of him. In 2004, Kerry made noise like he was going to head down the same path. but wisely, didn't. He did, however, grouse and moan and complain. Once again, it made a Democrat loser look like a petulant child.

jayro just hopes he can dec... (Below threshold)

jayro just hopes he can declare the argument won with that maneuver; there's no other in his quiver.

This thread seems to come... (Below threshold)
Steve Crickmore:

This thread seems to come down to winning elections, so let's remember the extentuating circumstances in 2000, and why Gore contested the election in Florida, the butterfly ballots etc. and the final result: the Supreme Court halted further Florida recounts by a vote of 5-4. Bush was certified as the winner in Florida by a margin of mere 537 votes.. With the recent Attorney Generals scandal what was the principal cause of the Administration/ Rove dissatisfaction with the AG's? They were either too hot too light in the pursuit of voter disenfranchisment cases. Organized crime, immigration cases, political corruption weren't even on the radar screen for Rove. It's all about trying to gerrymander the elections for their side, and neutralising the role of the referee- the prosecution and the courts: that helps you determine who will be the victor.

Paul Hooson:<blockquo... (Below threshold)

Paul Hooson:

Sarkozy who at first supported the U.S. war in Iraq in 2003, but then quickly backtracked from this position when it helped him politically at home. Sarkozy will do what's good for Sarkozy, and no one else.

That sounds very familiar actually. I'm sure you know to whom I'm referring.

Good post though, thanks for the background.

. . .begs the ques... (Below threshold)
Mac Lorry:
. . .begs the question of any Sarkozy hypocritical attacks on immigration when his parents were immigrants. But such hypocrisy is typical of Sarkozy's brand of politics.

I don't see this as hypocrisy any more it would be for people on an elevator telling other who want to get on that there's no more room. Once the situation changes, then stopping something that was done in the past is not hypocrisy. Immigration that threatens a nation's best interests need not be continued in the name of consistence. It's like drinking water, some is necessary, more creates discomfort, and too much kills. This is just common sense, which explains why it escapes the thinking of many liberals.

You refer to Nixon as an ab... (Below threshold)

You refer to Nixon as an aberration, while actually he makes your point more valid. He (as sitting VP) was defeated by JFK in 1960. Then came back in 1968 to defeat Hubert Humphrey (Johnson's VP) in 1968

Further on Nixon. Between 1... (Below threshold)

Further on Nixon. Between 1960 and 1968 he made a bid for Governor of California and was defeated. After that race he made the statement: "you won't have Dick Nixon to kick around anymore." He changed his mind however, and then they showed him what 'kickin' was all about.

Nixon lost to Pat Brown in ... (Below threshold)

Nixon lost to Pat Brown in 1962, but he didn't swear off politics. He swore off the media:

"You won't have Dick Nixon to kick around any more because, gentlemen, this is my last press conference."

He did later acquiesce, of course.

Republicans have given losing candidates another shot several times. Besides Nixon, there was Thomas Dewey who was nominated for President a second time. Primary losers like Reagan, Bush the Elder, and Bob Dole have also returned to win the nomination.

Democrats are clearly less forgiving of their losers. Only Adlai Stevenson and Al Gore have managed to win the nomination after losing their first time since William Jennings Bryan.

This time around, previous losers of Presidential campaigns on the Republican side include McCain and Ron Paul. The Democrats have Edwards, Biden, and Kucinich.






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