September 07, 2004

What I Learned from a Loser

Let’s climb into fellow columnist Tim Landry’s time machine and take a trip back to a more innocent place: my grandparents’ house, July 1988. I’m lying across the living-room sofa, all four feet of me, eyes still stinging from a visit to the optometrist. So like any eight-year-old boy, I decided to watch the Democratic National Convention pick its nominee.

My older brother, a towering hulk of 10, sat down on the floor next to me. “I hope Jesse Jackson wins.”

"Me too,” I responded, with the political shrewdness that would guide me through adulthood. “I just know he’ll beat Reagan!”

My bro and I sat transfixed for the next few hours as we watched delegates from each state declare its state pride (“There’s a state called Rhode Island? Really?”) and add up its votes.

“The great state of California casts its votes for the next president of the United States, Michael Dukakis!”

“Texas puts in its votes for the next president of the United States, Michael Dukakis!”

“The next president of the United States, Michael Dukakis!”

“Michael Dukakis! Whooooo-hoo!” Wow! Hours of this!

By the time this love-fest was over, I felt totally hyped. We had the impression that this Michael, unlike our man Jackson, was really “Bad.” I went to bed that night thinking that Dukakis was going to change the world. The thunderous crowd and thousands of balloons had me hooked. The little Greek man from Massachusetts was everyone’s favorite candidate. Why even bother to have an election?

Of course, I hadn’t considered a few things. First off, elections are every four years, not eight, and Reagan was not running. Second, Dukakis would turn out to have eyebrows that outsized his charisma and popularity. And third, I was watching the Democratic Convention, forgetting for a moment that it was everyone’s job to be excited about Dukakis. When I learned that the Republicans were going to have a shindig too, I kept calling it “The Republican Democratic Convention.”

I finally began to see reality when my elementary school held a mock election, in which each student dropped a card in one of two boxes marked “Bush” or “Dukakis.” Final tally: a 536-64 tilt toward the pachyderm. The nation did my school proud on Election Day, when the nation voted in favor of four more years of Republican rule. It was a surprising (for me, if for no one else) and stinging defeat, one that would steel me for countless elections and football games to come.

It was at age eight that I learned a hard lesson: just because something is accepted among a small cocoon of people doesn’t mean that it’s popular, or correct. Sometimes it takes a look into the broader outside world to see just how different perspectives can be. No matter where your beliefs lie, it never hurts to see how others think. That’s a good lesson for those who wish to spend their entire lives buried in the haze of a lifetime of unquestioned beliefs. Certain dictators and seriously misguided U.S. leaders come to mind.

This credo isn’t just about politics, however, but about life. Too many people are afraid to question their values, or don’t even realize that they should. Questioning beliefs should only make them stronger. If they turn out to be weak, then accept that and move on. Because if you stay in your shell and pretend that Dukakis is the man, you just might miss your chance to find something better. Like Bill Clinton!

Sometimes it takes a loser to make us realize what it takes to be a winner in life. Thank you, Mike.

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