Ganahl: In Politics, Losing Isn’t Winning
by Dennis Ganahl, Ph.D.
The first time I heard the phrase “Winning by losing” was a couple of weeks ago. A Republican county commissioner enlightened me with a conspiratorial wink. Our group had just lost a vote to freeze seniors’ property taxes. The “winker” had introduced our bill to the county council.
I should mention here, the “winker” is planning to run for state senator during the next election cycle. State senator is a status upgrade as far as political jobs go. In our county council, Democrats outnumbered Republicans, and the vote was along party lines. Hearing his phrase, I shook my head hoping it would make sense. It didn’t. How was losing winning? Senior citizens lost.
The American spirit is competitive. The Bald Eagle is our national symbol. It’s not the wild turkey which is relegated to a whiskey bottle label and the Thanksgiving dinner table. The Bald Eagle is a bird of prey. It’s proudly perched on our official documents, flags, and public buildings. America is forged on values that take pride in being first, not second or God forbid, last. Americans grow up competing with ourselves and others. We compete in sports, video and card games and even spelling bees. Americans honor honest effort and discipline, but the highest honor goes to the winner not the loser. We keep score. At the end of the competition, whoever has scored the most points, or has the biggest wad of Monopoly money — wins.
So, what in the world did the Republican county councilman mean? There I was trying to understand a lost vote, and he was whispering to me that losing was winning. It didn’t feel like winning. Our volunteer-grassroots group had worked our collective tails off to develop a bill, find sponsors, and collect 2,200 signatures from across the state on our website to promote tax relief for seniors. We had walked the halls of our state capitol, testified in committee hearings, and advocated with legislators for months to pass a bill for senior tax relief. Our members had sent tens of thousands of emails and made thousands of phone calls to legislators demanding various votes be taken for tax relief. In the end, the bill passed 187-3 (combined Senate and House) and it was signed by the Republican governor, albeit grouchily.
It removes state income taxes for social security and private pensions, a benefit totaling $309 million each year. It also offers a provision which allows an individual county to adopt an ordinance which freezes the property taxes on a senior’s primary residence. We never said, or even thought, it was okay if the bill didn’t pass. We weren’t deterred that experienced lobbyists told us to relax because it would take two to four years to pass a bill. Losing didn’t compute, and it certainly wasn’t winning. Our only path to victory was to win. Getting our bill passed into law was a huge win, but we won’t be satisfied until every county freezes seniors’ property taxes. Winning is winning not losing. Again, it’s the American way.
The un-American “winker” wasn’t thinking about seniors, he was thinking about himself, when he whispered “losing is winning.” It didn’t matter to him whether seniors got property tax relief or not, he was focused on getting the “credit” in his senate race for “trying” to get tax relief for seniors. If seniors would’ve gotten their property taxes frozen, he won; if seniors didn’t get property tax relief, he won. He won by losing. Seniors weren’t so lucky.
Winning by losing isn’t just an oxymoron, it’s a losing philosophy that is becoming a way of life for too many transactional Republicans. Winning is winning. Losing is losing. Losing is not winning. Don’t let losers win by losing. Hold them accountable.
Dennis Ganahl, Ph.D., a newspaper publisher, professor, political consultant and author, has been involved in political campaigns for 52 years. He recently released his novel of political satire, “Don’t Shoot. We Come in Peace.” He will be the featured speaker at the foundation’s seminar Dec. 8-9 in Wabash on “How to Win a Micro-Election.”