In this space on this day, I rise to...

AS IS TRADITIONAL

November 05, 1992|By THEO LIPPMAN JR.

AS IS TRADITIONAL in this space on this day, I rise to propose a toast: "Here's to the losers! It wouldn't be America without you!"

Think about it. Representative democracy requires that the citizenry be given a choice. Your representative is not your representative if your representative doesn't represent you, which he or she can't do if you don't have a choice in choosing.

Got that? Shall I run it by you again?

In many cases, the losers go into this thing knowing they haven't got a chance. They, I think, are the biggest heroes of all. They subject themselves to if not actual torture then certainly cruel and unusual punishment.

For one thing, they have to suffer the slings and arrows of smart alecks like me. Even worse they have to suffer the criticism and instructions of those few pompous asses in my business who have never run anything but their mouths but every election year tell candidates and voters how to run the country.

It's not just journalists who wound them. The wildest and most insulting accusations often come from their opponents. If you think it's easy to accept this, look at how Ross Perot reacted. Nothing he had ever done in his life, it is safe to say, prepared him for the way his skin was peeled off. My hunch is he'll never run again.

Real politicians, winners and losers, subject themselves to this sort of industrial strength dermabrasion every two or four years.

The biggest losers of all are probably those who come so close. They are doomed for life to wonder if -- if I'd said this instead of that, if I'd gone there instead of here, if I'd used Man Tan instead of Lazy Shave for the first televised debate . . . .

That last poor soul lost the presidency in 1960 by 115,000 votes out of 68 million cast -- a 0.17 percent margin. Such near dead heats happen all up and down the line all the time. Four years ago, for example, three U.S. Senate candidates and six House of Representatives candidates lost by less than 1.0 percent.

Losing hurts whether it's by a landslide or by a nose. (The metaphors of politics are best well-mixed.) Losing is the gift that keeps on giving. This seems especially true when it comes to presidential candidates.

After he lost the presidency to George Bush four years ago, a depressed Michael Dukakis asked Walter Mondale, who had lost the presidency to Ronald Reagan four years before, "How long before it stops hurting?"

Mondale replied, "I don't know." It hadn't yet.

One of those loser-by-a-nose House candidates mentioned above was Wayne Gilchrest of Maryland's Eastern Shore. He came back to win the House seat two years later. And, of course, the Lazy Shave candidate was Richard Nixon, who came back to win the presidency eight years later. The point is, losers, that there are life and hope after defeat.

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