The Other Guys

1 Mar

The Animaniacs can tell you in three minutes everything you need to know about the Presidents. But (with immense respect to Wakko, Yakko, and Dot) they’ve skipped the story’s compelling half.

The winners’ tale is old hat. I’m here to spin the yarn of the losers.

You’ve heard of Aaron Burr (1800), who won a duel but lost an election. You know Bob Dole (1996) and John McCain (2008). You might’ve even seen a headline that made Thomas Dewey (1944, 1948) actually think he was a winner. He wasn’t.

Ever heard of a Copy Editor?

Two losers, Al Gore (2000) and Samuel Tilden (1876), even won the popular vote. But if Sweet Valley High taught me anything, you have to be popular where it counts to be a real winner.

I’d write the book on the losers if I could, but Stephanie Meyer beat me to it. So I’ll instead present my three favorite failures.
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1940 – Wendell Willkie

Wendell L. Willkie is more than just a starter on history’s all-name team. He’s also the contender who came closest to upsetting the undefeated, undisputed four-time heavyweight champion of the free world – Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

Sure Willkie lost the popular vote in 1940 by an even 10%. But we’re talking about FDR here. Even from a wheelchair, that guy makes Secretariat look like the dead horse from The Godfather.

This prophetic banner was my best ever eBay purchase.

For the twelve years Franklin Roosevelt held office, the Republicans assumed the role of the Washington Generals. They sat idly by as the Harlem GlobeDemocrats drew up “The New Deal” and “D-Day,” flashy trick plays with which they saved humanity.

Wendell Willkie’s campaign was something like the one time in the Roosevelt Era that the GOP even bothered to show up to the polls. And yeah, if you look at the returns, it was an undeniable catastrophe. But, like this missed dunk and that haircut, it was a glorious catastrophe.

Before he had a chance to lose again, Willkie died on October 8, 1944. As if to account for the misery he would miss, fate dealt him an estimated twenty heart attacks in that final weekend. Wow.
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1896, 1900, 1908 – William Jennings Bryan

All apologies to the peacock and its family of poor-performing networks, but William Jennings Bryan is the biggest loser there was or will ever be.

Bryan lost elections like Bo Peep lost sheep. When it comes to failure, he’s number one with a ballot. He’s banned in California for fear he’d trigger landslides. He puts the suffer in suffrage. He’s bold. He’s bald. And he’s just plain bad. He is William Jennings Bryan.

Later in life, the thrice-failed Democratic candidate was biblical creationism’s “champion” in the 1925 Scopes Monkey Trial. There is no stronger evidence in favor of evolution than that William Jennings Bryan opposed it.

This man is descended from an ape.

Literally five days after the Scopes Trial wrapped, Bryan punched a one-way ticket to meet his maker. Among the scores of cards and flowers at his gravesite was a handwritten note reading simply:

Try calling Buddhism an inferior religion now, bitch.
Deepest condolences,
-Karma

1928 – Al Smith

FDR referred to Al Smith as “The Happy Warrior of the Political Battlefield.” How boss is that nickname? He lived up to it too.

Al Smith represents a remarkable beacon of positive change in American politics. He was pro-labor and a genuine reformer who believed in civil liberties and sought the repeal of Prohibition. He was one of the first to reach out and listen to women voters, and he sympathized with immigrants and the working class. In other words, Al Smith got it.

Sadly his Catholicism rendered him unelectable. That generation’s bigots feared he’d defer to the Pope over the Constitution. And so Americans exercised their great gift for paranoia and elected Herbert Hoover instead. CRASH!

Al Smith and Babe Ruth participate in the Johns-Manville Asbestos Pro-Am

Despite his defeat, Smith’s candidacy made Democrats of demographics that weren’t previously. Catholics, women, immigrants, minorities, city folk, and the working class went to the polls in droves behind Al Smith. And so began the modern Democratic Party.

A heart attack claimed the Happy Warrior in October 1944, just four days before Wendell Willkie passed. It was a rough week for the also-rans.
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I sing the body electoral.

In the spirit of the Animaniacs, here’s a short audiovisual guide to the men who nearly, but never were elected President. Take a look. Would you have voted for any of these losers?

-David

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2 Responses to “The Other Guys”

  1. Mackey March 2, 2011 at 11:17 am #

    What of Adlai Stevenson?

  2. Page March 2, 2011 at 11:45 am #

    I forgot about the Animaniacs

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