Democracy Needs Better Losers

The morning after an election, everyone wants to talk about the winners. But the losers are more interesting, if only because they might assume no one’s watching.

My email inbox on Wednesday morning included yet one more email from newly victorious Barack Obama and a facebook note from defeated Eugene City Council candidate Juan Carlos Valle. You can guess which one I opened first.

Although I never endorsed Valle, I did answer the door when he canvassed my house and we met a couple more times after that. I admired his courageous style of leadership that sought out every opinion before forging his policy positions. He met with EmX’s fiercest opponents and sturdiest supporters before taking a stand on that contentious issue. He bettered the race by how he ran it. His note to me was short and gracious. I imagine he sent hundreds of them that morning.

Valle lost to Betty Taylor, who is now on her way to becoming the Lou Gehrig of Eugene city councilors, breaking records for endurance and longevity. I’m glad for her, but glad also for Valle, who gave no indication that the campaign or its outcome has drained him of his desire to serve. That’s a different sort of courage altogether.

On the national scene, Romney earned kudos for a gracious concession speech and Obama pledged to meet with his rival in the next couple of weeks to explore ways they can work together, as the nation moves on.

Let’s hope the Republican party moves on too. Unlike Obama’s last vanquished foe, Romney doesn’t have a day job as a U.S. senator. If he and the president can find strategic common ground, the nation will be better for it.

If the president has screened Spielberg’s recent portrayal of Lincoln, he might be tempted to build his own team of rivals and offer Romney a cabinet position. He’ll need a strong Health and Human Services Secretary as the Affordable Care Act progresses toward implementation. Who better than the former Massachusetts governor who provided the outline for the national plan?

Obama chose adversaries from his 2008 primary battle to be his vice president and his secretary of state. Crossing party lines for a cabinet appointment would fulfill some good governance fantasies that have floated in Washington since John McCain supposedly declined John Kerry’s overture to be his running mate in 2004.

I hope Romney can remain his party’s standard-bearer for a little while longer. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and Speaker of the House John Boehner have never succeeded in hitting any of the same conciliatory notes with the president, if they ever tried.

National Republicans lost badly because they haven’t lost well. Instead of reflecting on their party’s deficiencies after the 2008 drubbing, they employed a scorched earth strategy to cripple, discredit, and ruin the victor. They treated our president as a fluke, then a fraud, then a patsy. America didn’t like it.

Republicans were certain that Obama’s term would be just a short interruption in their narrative. Karl Rove’s vision of their permanent majority would continue.

But Obama’s reelection offered a different storyline. No mistake was made. Electing a black American president is now the status quo.

I was in Washington D.C. on Election Night this week. Police blocked off parts of U Street to allow revelers from one of the district’s trendiest bar scenes to spill safely into the streets.

I watched the returns from the National Press Club’s ballroom, where they promised it would be a nonpartisan event. That meant one of the many televisions would be tuned to FOX News, but it didn’t prevent the crowd from cheering every time Obama secured a few more electoral votes.

Nothing in Washington is ever nonpartisan. 91.4 percent of this week’s ballots were cast for Barack Obama. But its partisanship is informed and informative. Cabbies are willing quiz bankers here, asking why any working stiff would vote Republican. Bankers might try to explain, until they see that the meter’s still running.

And that’s the point. The cabbie and the banker are both Americans, before the election and afterwards too. For all of us, on every side, the meter’s still running.

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Don Kahle (fridays@dksez.com) writes a column each Friday for The Register-Guard and blogs.