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.

A Visit to Walter Reed
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