“What should I do if my candidate loses the presidential election?”
Well, I’ll tell you what I’m going to do. Freak out. Have a meltdown. Cry, definitely cry. And go into work the next day sluggish and hungover from my attempts to assuage the pain.
No. I’m going to do none of that, and neither should you. Especially don’t cry. Unless you are a member of either candidate’s immediate family, DO NOT CRY. It’s not worth it. Instead, consider a few things.
1. The candidate who wins is not necessarily the better person or leader. There are many examples, but I think of the 1972 campaign. George McGovern got walloped! Lost 49 states. Folks, there are only 50. Yet, a couple weeks ago when McGovern died, people on both sides of the political aisle celebrated him as a patriot and happy warrior for the causes he held dear. As for the winner of the 1972 race? He’ll always be the first (and hopefully last) president to resign in disgrace. The guy who won failed; the guy who lost succeeded. Look, only one person can win a race. If your guy (or, someday, gal) loses, it’s not necessarily a repudiation of everything that candidate, or you by extension, believe. You just didn’t quite come up with enough votes. No shame in that. With tomorrow’s election especially, no one should gloat, and no one should despair. This thing is so close that whoever wins will know an almost equal number of Americans didn’t want him to.
2. An awful lot of change happens at the state and local levels, not just the federal level. We’re so conditioned to focus on the top guy, the “leader of the free world,” that few of us think about governors and state representatives and county commissioners and school board officials. But who sets salaries for the police officers who keep your towns safe? Not the president. Who initiated all those anti-gay ballot initiatives? Not the president. He can neither initiate nor stop them. Who determines what school boards will be able to pay their teachers who educate your children? Neither Barack Obama nor Mitt Romney. Yes, the president matters, but all those candidates further down the ballot matter a lot too. Maybe more.
3. Culture and society progress regardless who leads. This isn’t always true, but often enough it is. Remember, it was just eight years ago that George W. Bush in his successful bid for reelection was calling for a Constitutional amendment banning gay marriage forever. No candidate would consider that today. The public just isn’t for it. Attitudes have changed, and even though states are still managing to pass amendments to their constitutions banning same-sex unions, public polls now show that about half of all Americans approve of gay marriage. That’s up dramatically from eight years ago, even though for half that time the man at the top opposed it. Federal appeals courts have ruled “The Defense of Marriage Act” unconstitutional, and it’s only a matter of time before the Supreme Court hears the case. A decade ago, this would have been unimaginable. Civilization marches on, often in spite of its leaders. If your guy loses the election tomorrow, it doesn’t mean your favorite causes have died or even stalled. Sometimes, it even takes opposition to inspire people. Your guy losing may be the best thing to happen to your causes! It’s just not as simple as who wins and who loses.
4. An added word of perspective for Obama supporters, should he lose: second terms are notoriously bad. I don’t know why any president would want one. Lyndon Johnson had Vietnam. Richard Nixon had Watergate. Ronald Reagan had Iran-Contra. Bill Clinton had Monica Lewinsky (literally). And George W. Bush? Well, what didn’t he have? Social Security, Katrina, Iraq, financial meltdown. Guy couldn’t catch a break. At that rate, maybe you shouldn’t pull for Obama. No one wants to be a one termer, but many one termers are held in pretty high regard. Most historians think the first President Bush was more successful than the second, and yet the first was a one termer and the second, a two termer. Carter lost handily his bid for reelection but has faithfully served the causes of peace and equality ever since. It’s hard not to respect Carter, even if you disagree with him. President Gerald Ford’s decision to pardon Nixon doomed him in the only race he ever ran for the White House, yet he was well-regarded for the remainder of his life. Winning a second term doesn’t guarantee you success or popularity, and losing doesn’t automatically deprive you of them.
Bottom line, have perspective. Treat folks well tomorrow. You’ll wish you had on Wednesday. If your candidate wins, be gracious. If your candidate loses, be congratulatory. And don’t go about moping like the next four years are the end of America. They’re not. I’m watching the returns with my church small group tomorrow. We’re having a “Love Your Neighbor Election Party.” We’re committing to treat each other well, no matter what. Join us in spirit, if you will.