Is turned over to the losers after election...

THIS SPACE

September 19, 1994|By THEO LIPPMAN JR.

THIS SPACE is turned over to the losers after election days. They are expendable -- but they're also indispensable. There is no democracy without them.

The patron saint of losers is Abraham Lincoln. After losing his Senate race to Stephen Douglas in 1858, he said he felt like a little boy who stubbed his toe in the dark. He was too old to cry, but it hurt too much to laugh.

Adlai Stevenson quoted his Illinois ancestor in 1952 when he lost a presidential bid. Stevenson later lost another presidential race, but, as Lincoln himself proved, one can lose and later win.

Or, as Happy Chandler put it, after losing a 1938 Senate primary in Kentucky, "Every now and then you dig a dry hole." Later Happy became not only a U.S. senator but baseball commissioner. The George Mitchell of his day? (George was defeated by an independent candidate when he ran for governor.)

Lincoln and Stevenson were wrong in a sense. Men can cry when they lose an election. Bob Dole lost his vice presidential bid in 1976. The next day, he said, "Contrary to reports that I took the loss badly, I want to say that I went home last night and slept like a baby. Every two hours I woke up and cried."

Dole is the Timex of politics and an inspiration to all losers. He took a licking in the 1980 and 1988 presidential primaries but keeps on ticking: He's perhaps the front runner for the 1996 Republican presidential nomination.

Keep this in mind as you weigh some sour notes from some sad candidates: There are many, many instances of down-in-the dumps losers who got over it -- with a vengeance. Take Ed Koch. He lost a bid for a House seat in 1962. He said, "I'll never run again. It's a filthy business." But filthy is as filthy does, as Forrest Gump's mother might put it. Ed came back ready to do battle on any opponent's terms and was elected to Congress, then to three terms as mayor of New York City.

It's hard to laugh at losses, but some pols are able to do it. When Alf Landon lost the presidential race to Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1936 in the biggest landslide yet, he compared himself to a Kansas farmer who, after a tornado reduced his house, barn and outbuildings to splinters, began to laugh uproariously. His wife said, "What are you laughing at, you darned old fool?" He replied, "The completeness of it all!"

In a three-candidate race in 1912, President William Howard Taft did even worse than Landon. He joked that, "I have one consolation. No candidate was ever elected ex-president by such a large majority." He later became chief justice.

Now, losers, if none of this cheers you up and makes you forget the past and look forward to the future, you can always get some personal satisfaction by placing blame where blame is due, as did a man named Dick Tuck. Upon losing a California legislative race in the 1970s, he uttered this immortal feel-good concession statement: "The people have spoken. The bastards."

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