When does a need to win become unhealthy? Is a willingness to accept loss a sign of weakness? These questions take on real-world significance when we compare the views of Barack Obama and Mitt Romney on losing elections.
Conservatives terrified that Romney will go wobbly on Obama and then lose in November will not be reassured by Romney’s words. But those same people will see in Obama’s words confirmation of the President’s disturbing tendency to make everything about him. In the end, with Obama, it’s not really about stopping the rise of the oceans or improving America’s standing in the world: it’s about Barack Obama looking out for #1.
Mitt Romney addressed winning and losing in an interview with Peggy Noonan, recounted in her Wall St. Journal column this past weekend (“Mitt Romney’s Moment,” May 26, 2012):
Does he love . . . the game of politics? “I like competition, and I think the game is like a sport for old guys. I mean, you know, I can’t compete in competitive sports very well, but I can compete in politics, and there’s the–what was the old ABC ‘Wide World of Sports’ slogan? ‘The thrill of victory and the agony of defeat.’ The only difference is victory is still a thrill, but I don’t feel agony in loss.”
. . .
“This for me is not my life, meaning I don’t have to win an election to feel good about myself.” He’s achieved success in business “beyond my wildest dreams.” He’s “hoping to make a contribution and go to Washington and go home when it’s over. . . . Who I am has long ago been determined by my relationship with the people I love, and with my success in my professional career.”
Romney’s take is strikingly different from Barack Obama’s, as recounted by Obama in The Audacity of Hope (2006, pages 105 and 107):
Neither ambition nor single-mindedness fully accounts for the behavior of politicians, however. There is a companion emotion, perhaps more pervasive and certainly more destructive, an emotion that, after the giddiness of your official announcement as a candidate, rapidly locks you in its grip and doesn’t release you until after Election Day. That emotion is fear. Not just fear of losing–although that is bad enough–but fear of total, complete humiliation.
I still burn, for example, with the thought of my one loss in politics, a drubbing in 2000 at the hands of incumbent Democratic Congressman Rep. Bobby Rush (D-IL).”
. . .
[I]t’s impossible not to feel at some level as if you have been personally repudiated by the entire community, that you don’t quite have what it takes, and that everywhere you go the word “loser” is flashing through people’s minds.
Is Romney a GOP Michael Dukakis, smiling all the way to defeat? Is Obama a more telegenic Richard Nixon, brooding about a potential loss and breaking rules to keep defeat at bay? Where are these two men along the continuum from too-satisfied with losing, to a healthy “fire in the belly,” to a disturbing panic at the prospect of defeat? And what impact will it have on the 2012 race?
I look at Romney’s career and outsized successes in business, government and politics, and consider conservatives’ fears overblown. Romney has plenty of fire in the belly. But it doesn’t take a Dr. Phil to wonder if Obama’s burning sensation has not crossed into an unhealthy place that might explain some of the flailing we are already seeing from him in recent weeks.
Fear and ego are powerful motivators. Those are certainly good reasons not to count Obama out despite our nation’s high unemployment, weak economic growth and crushing federal debt. But it’s also a reminder to brace ourselves for the fury we are likely to see as Obama’s re-election prospects fade this fall.
Follow Michael on Twitter at @mikeparanzino.