This week, writing about the plight of Texas Democrats, the Tribune’s managing editor, Ross Ramsey, asked: “So why does anyone still invest in these guys?”
Why pose such a question when you’ve already answered it in the same article? It’s exactly the same reason that folks like George H.W. Bush, Robert Mosbacher Sr. and H.L. Hunt continued to invest in Texas Republicans when they were in “the basement” and didn’t seem capable of winning a statewide race: because they believed in the Republican Party and what it stood for, and they knew that if they stopped investing, their candidates, instead of just being underdogs, would stand absolutely no chance whatsoever. And they knew because of the incredibly surprising election of John Tower to the U.S. Senate in 1960. With a little luck and good timing, strange things can and will happen at the ballot box.
What seems to be forgotten by today’s poll-hungry, poll-driven media is that politics is not horse racing. While some candidates may make it all about winning, they are the same ones who usually have absolutely no idea what to do once they get in office. Politics is supposed to be about ideas and issues and the direction of the city, county, state and nation. That’s why we have elections: so people can shape the future of where they live.
Perhaps the media has failed to notice, and perhaps we as Democrats have done a less-than-stellar job explaining, but there are significant differences between the two major parties. Most Democrats believe we could be doing much better at educating our children and providing opportunity for the less fortunate; we believe in equality, abhor racism and think our God wants us to take care of the planet he has blessed us with. Meanwhile, Republicans want to treat schoolchildren as widgets in a factory and pretend a standardized test can give us the educational results we need. They want to reject any kind of tax increase, no matter how necessary, for purely ideological reasons — even as higher education and social services suffer immensely because of cuts — and they want global warming treated as so much malarkey because it might cost a little more to breathe cleaner air.
If, as Democrats, we ever hope to see the change we desire, we have to continue to support and invest in candidates, even after a terrible loss. The alternative is to simply give up, and just as that was not acceptable for Republicans when they found themselves on the losing side, it’s not acceptable for us. With today’s media, it’s quite likely that Ronald Reagan would have been pilloried and ridiculed and reduced to such a level that he would have never stood a chance of actually winning. Now that he’s the most revered figure in the Republican Party, people forget that Reagan ran and lost twice before getting the nomination in 1980. For the longest time, his conservative views were seen as very much out of touch with the majority, but he kept preaching, and people kept listening. Slowly but surely there were enough followers to send him to the White House. That’s how the pendulum swings in our system.
Ramsey compares Texas Democrats to the Texas Longhorns but leaves out a very important fact: Before finally winning a national championship in 2006, Texas coach Mack Brown said that it was incumbent upon the Longhorns to learn how to win again. It’s a line I tried to borrow from him when I was the Democratic nominee for governor in 2006 — but it’s easier said than done. As Democrats, we have developed a loser’s mentality, and that mentality usually becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. At no time was that more apparent than this past election: The media told us we were going to lose, we told ourselves we were going to lose, and if the glass was half-full, by golly, we were going to see it as half-empty.
Shortly after Labor Day, a public poll showed Bill White trailing Rick Perry by single digits. Had such a poll been released in 2006, I would have been doing cartwheels down Congress Avenue. (I don’t even know how to do cartwheels, but I would have learned.) But not in 2010. It was a bad year. Close wasn’t good enough. Instead of getting excited and helping White make up the difference, most Democrats said it couldn’t be done and just went to the house. That’s what losers do.
So, yes, the well-heeled need to keep investing, but the rank-and-file are going to have to start believing — believing that Democratic stands are worth fighting for, believing that they make a difference, believing that we can win. Ramsey and others will keep taking their shots, and that’s just fine. This isn’t about Lucky Lady losing by two lengths in the homestretch. This is about a state losing its direction, losing a magnificent sense of pride that propelled it above all others and maybe losing its future.
If there’s any possibility whatsoever of changing that, it’s well worth the investment.
Chris Bell, the Democratic nominee for Governor in 2006, practices law in Houston.