Don’t stop try­ing just be­cause you lost

Daily Freeman (Kingston, NY) - - FRONT PAGE - Su­san Estrich Su­san Estrich is syn­di­cated by Cre­ators Syn­di­cate.

Colum­nist Su­san Estrich re­flects on 1980 to put the re­cent pres­i­den­tial elec­tion in per­spec­tive.

If you think Nov. 8 was bad, you might not have been around on elec­tion night in 1980. Now that was a land­slide. We sort of knew it was turn­ing af­ter the one and only de­bate, and most of us out “in the field” got a call that morn­ing telling us the last poll in­di­cated land­slide-level bad news. But ab­so­lutely no one (out­side some bub­ble some­where) ever thought that the pres­i­dent of the United States would con­cede in the 8 o’clock hour East­ern. For the next three hours, they played the scenes: Jimmy Carter con­ced­ing; Ronald Rea­gan ac­cept­ing; vot­ers in line in Cal­i­for­nia go­ing back to their cars; and Se­nate leg­ends drop­ping like flies. I fi­nally took to drink­ing, like ev­ery­one else.

When I woke up, head throb­bing, ra­dio an­nounc­ers were talk­ing about Democrats’ los­ing the Se­nate. I called Ted Kennedy’s of­fice. “Se­na­tor Kennedy’s of­fice,” the re­cep­tion­ist an­swered, and I could hear that she was cry­ing. That’s when I re­ally knew.

Un­like our cur­rent pres­i­den­t­elect, Pres­i­dent Rea­gan ac­tu­ally did have a man­date, which is to say he ran on a set of ba­sic plans and his vot­ers ac­tu­ally agreed with him. That’s not to men­tion the fact that his elec­tion, along with clean­ing out the ad­min­is­tra­tion, purged staffers from the well-paid po­si­tions the com­mit­tee ma­jor­ity gets. This meant half the Democrats in Wash­ing­ton were un­em­ployed, and the ones who weren’t were run­ning for cover to sur­vive the Rea­gan Revo­lu­tion. No one was shy about be­ing pic­tured with the new pres­i­dent and his at­trac­tive, age-ap­pro­pri­ate-yet-stylish wife. In other words, it was a re­ally aw­ful time to be a Demo­crat in Wash­ing­ton, es­pe­cially a Kennedy Demo­crat, or one of Ted Kennedy’s staff. I shared a tiny back of­fice with the late Ron Brown and the po­lit­i­cal di­rec­tor of the cam­paign, Carl Wag­ner. We tried to fig­ure out what we could pos­si­bly do that would win more than about three votes. And the House was gen­er­ally hope­less, be­cause if you added the con­ser­va­tive South­ern Dems to the Repub­li­cans, Rea­gan had a work­ing ma­jor­ity. Was I, lucky as I was to be em­ployed on a lib­eral is­land, a lit­tle bit bored?

One day, I was strolling the hall­ways, as I some­times did, and I ran into one of my he­roes, the first black fe­male lawyer in Mis­sis­sippi, the woman who lit­er­ally in­tro­duced Bobby Kennedy to poverty, and the founder and heart of the Chil­dren’s De­fense Fund: Mar­ian Wright Edel­man. I ac­tu­ally knew her be­cause I’d worked for her equally won­der­ful hus­band, Kennedy’s aide in those days, Peter Edel­man. There she was, a woman in her early 40s, lug­ging some heavy bags full of white pa­pers and re­ports and all the things peo­ple would have to lug around in those days to con­vince mem­bers of Congress, or maybe just their staff mem­bers, not to dec­i­mate their fa­vorite pro­grams. And since ev­ery­thing was on the chop­ping block and Democrats had no power and, as for­mer Repub­li­can leader Sen. Bob Dole once fa­mously said, there are no PACs for poor chil­dren, it was re­ally about as ter­ri­ble a time as pos­si­ble to be an ad­vo­cate for poor chil­dren whose par­ents didn’t vote, much less make cam­paign con­tri­bu­tions. Mar­ian Edel­man could well have sat it out for 11 years: One of her young lawyers, Hil­lary Rod­ham Clin­ton, was mar­ried to a man who would then take the Oval Of­fice. But even if Edel­man could have seen the fu­ture, she never would have con­sid­ered idly sit­ting by in the in­terim. “What are you do­ing?” I asked her, although it was ob­vi­ous. She told me she was there ad­vo­cat­ing for pro­grams that helped the chil­dren most in need.

“Not very pop­u­lar these days,” I said stupidly. She looked at me as if I were a se­ri­ous per­son, which was only some­times true in those days: “You never stop just be­cause you lose.” No one gets out with an un­bro­ken se­ries of wins, un­less it re­ally is rigged. And the chal­lenge, the test, the mea­sure of us, is the way we play our bad cards, not our good ones. If you stop ev­ery time you lose, you won’t be play­ing when you’re most needed.

Do it dif­fer­ently. Do it your way. But start; don’t stop. Don’t let our losses be for naught, or worse.

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