ValueSpeak
A Weekly Column
By Joseph Walker

FREE TO LOSE

My colleague, T.J., lived most of his life in . . . well, let’s just say he lived in a country that is very different from the United States of America and leave it at that, shall we?

Consequently, he has been more than a little interested in watching the American political process unfold during the past year – especially during the last few months.  As you might expect, he has had hundreds of questions about everything from Al Gore to Zeb Miller.

“It is surprising to me,” he said one day, “that in a county that seems to be so committed to the concept of monogamy, that your ruler would have more than one spouse.”

“More than one . . .?” I started to ask.  Then it hit me: he’d been watching Rumor, Slander and Innuendo Week on the History Channel again.  The only question was, which presidential indiscretion was I going to have to explain?  The slave?  The driver?  The movie star?  The intern?

Thankfully, T.J. actually bailed me out himself.

“I hear all about the First Lady,” he said, “but I never hear about the Second Lady.  I assume there must be a Second if there is a First.  Correct?”

Thankfully I had an answer for his semantic confusion.  So now T.J. has a pretty good handle on presidential monogamy (which is more than I can say for some of our former presidents . . . but I digress).  That leaves two things about American elections he’s having a hard time comprehending.  First, he doesn’t understand how powerful and popular candidates, each with millions of passionate supporters, can appear to be so angry at each other without throwing down the gloves and physically attacking each other – or urging their followers to do so.

“They insult each other, then they smile and shake hands,” he said, shaking his head.  “It seems so dishonest and uncivilized.”

The second thing he struggles with is the whole concept of losing.

“In my country we vote, but usually there is only one name on the ballot,” he said.  “So nobody loses.  You just vote to say you approve of the selected candidate.  It must be a difficult thing to lose and to experience such shame in such a public way.”

Difficult?  Yes.  But shameful?  No way.  In fact, losing an election is one of the most remarkable things about democracy.  Implicit within the concept of freedom is the opportunity to succeed AND fail.  It is our choice whether or not we will run for public office; it is the choice of the people whether we will win or lose.  Freedom and choice are the key elements here: we are free to run for public office, the electorate is free to choose from a slate of (more or less) qualified candidates, and everyone is free to win – and to lose.

Of course, losing an election is never easy – theoretical nobility aside.  So much time, energy, effort and money are invested in the campaign by candidates and supporters alike.  After spending months raging about the inability of your opponent to do the job, it is difficult to turn the other political cheek and offer your support to the people’s choice.

Difficult – but not impossible.  For that is what democracy demands of candidates and their supporters.  You see, we don’t do coups in this country.  We don’t do riots in the streets (unless we’ve won an important ball game, in which case all bets are off).  That isn’t how we deal with Election Day defeat.  We understand that the people have spoken, and we graciously accept their will – narrow though the margin of defeat may be.

Oh sure, we may have hurt feelings, heartache and, occasionally, hanging chads.  But ultimately, we have order.  And discipline.  And profound belief in a system that produces patriots who are winners – as well as patriots who are losers.