Politics As Voter Self-Esteem

The most effective way to become forgotten by the American population is to be elected President and then lose your bid for re-election. Party members who are fanatically loyal to a President the day before election day in November cannot seem to remember his name on the day after election day if he lost. Two days before, they would not listen to a word of criticism. Such talk bordered on treason. “You believe lies!” The day after the election, the entire population is happy to see him go, whoever he was. The winners laugh at him, that loser! The losers are embarrassed by him, that loser!

Lyndon Johnson was a one-election President. His party made him a non-person at the 1968 Convention. He was not invited to speak. He was so far down Orwell’s memory hole by late 1968 that he could not see a dot of light when he looked up. Then there was Jimmy Carter, the man who was in charge during the second oil embargo, 22% T-bill rates, and the Iranian revolution, the man who is remembered for a word he never uttered in public: “malaise.” Jimmy, the sad sack. Yet the week before the 1980 election, Ronald Reagan was for Democrats the very incarnation of evil. “We want Jimmy!” But in 1984, millions of Democrats voted for Reagan in preference to . . . think. Remember him? Walter Mondale, Carter’s Vice President. Fritz reminded them of Grits. Grits was a loser.

Did you ever hear a Democrat who said he longed for the Carter Administration? No more than a Republican who longed for the Ford Administration.

Have you ever heard of any Republican who speaks of America’s great days under the first Bush Administration? Norman Schwartzkopf has a better press than his Commander-in-Chief.

How is it that members of an incumbent President’s party pay no attention to his follies, which are always many, on the day before the election, yet cannot wait for him to depart from the scene two days later, thereby opening up the field for the next knight in shining armor? Where is the party’s political loyalty?

This does not apply to two-term Presidents. Eisenhower and Reagan were fondly remembered by Republicans after they departed the White House. Clinton gets high-paying speaking engagements and occasionally gets interviewed on TV. Democrats compare him favorably with both Bushes. On matters fiscal, Republicans grumble about his “phenomenal luck” in not having a recession and in balancing the Federal budget (if we don’t count the conversion of Social Security surpluses into off-budget debt). But at least they acknowledge that in these areas, Clinton was a success. They would be deliriously happy if Bush, Jr., could bring back Clinton’s era — minus Monica and Hillary — under the Republican flag.

There is political loyalty, but only for two-time winners. Why is this?


Democrats and Republicans think of Presidential candidates as “their men.” They think that these men represent them. In what way? Not their ideas, surely, which Presidential candidates share only randomly with hard-core party members, which is why they invariably ignore their party’s platform once they are in office. The platform is never mentioned again. The faithful party member nevertheless thinks, “he’s my man.”

The suggestion is ludicrous. He is the Council on Foreign Relations’ man. He represents either CFR Team A or CFR Team B. This year, he is also Skull & Bones’ man. This is a first for Bones. In the past, Bones has been content merely to represent half of the voters, always Republicans: William Howard Taft, George H. W. Bush, George W. Bush. This year, Bones cannot lose. When you think about this, it is amazing. An oath-bound Yale University secret society that inducts only 15 people a year has picked off both candidates. Isn’t democracy grand? It is the voice of the people.

Voters are confused about political cause and effect. They think of a Presidential candidate as their man. In fact, they are his people. They exist so as to get his branch of the CFR elected. Fanatically loyal party voters are the party’s hip pocket voters. The party can safely pay no attention to them. The party must court voters who are not committed to the ideals of its core supporters, who in turn overlook the fact that their man will sell them out on every major issue that did not have support from the CFR. Most of them have never heard of the CFR.

Most labor union members have gritted their teeth and campaigned for every Democrat, despite the fact that every Democrat since Kennedy has been a low-tariff man. The industrial trade unions have been gutted by low-price imports since 1961, leaving them without power or influence nationally. Kennedy pushed GATT. Clinton pushed NAFTA. But labor union members still vote for Democrats. So, being safely in the Democrats’ hip pocket, Democrat Presidents skewer them mercilessly. They are expendable. The more loyal they are, the more expendable they are.

Republican anti-abortionists and fiscal conservatives suffer the same fate. Nobody in the Republican Party takes them seriously. Toss one bone to them per term — no stem cell research, or a one-shot tax cut — and that satisfies them. Like lap dogs, they come when they are called.


Remember George C. Scott’s speech in front of that huge American flag at the beginning of Patton? Remember how he said that Americans hate losing? How losing is hateful to them? Patton really said that. It was true then, and it is true now.

This is why Americans drop losing Presidential candidates down their party’s memory hole. They do not want to be reminded that they once supported a loser. Yet a few months before, they would not tolerate criticism of their man. An incumbent President who had their blind support on the day before the election becomes ex-President Whatzhizname the day after.

A Presidential candidate who never won the office suffers an even worse fate. Think of them: Humphrey, McGovern, Mondale, Dukakis, and Dole. All but Humphrey are still alive. But where?

Only one candidate survived his defeat: Goldwater. That was because he was never part of the CFR, was clearly an outsider, and actually voted in the Senate the way he talked as a candidate. He really did represent his core constituency. So, out of personal loyalty, his constituency forgave him in his later years when he turned against them, such as on the abortion issue. The proof of his core support is the fact that Richard Viguerie built a political direct mail empire with Goldwater’s list of small donors, which the Republican Party did not want.

Adlai Stevenson enjoyed similar support from Democrats. The reason was the same: he was a liberal whose core constituency was liberal. He really did represent them. But he lost. Twice. The power brokers then got the message. There would not be another like him: a loser who got a second chance. It was the last hurrah for the Old Democrats, who had gone down to defeat three times with William Jennings Bryan. There would never be another Thomas Dewey for Republicans, either.

From 1960 on, the carefully screened agents of the Powers That Be have not enjoyed the loyalty of the party’s voters, Reagan excepted, who was more or less forced on them, and who put Bush on the ticket as the quid pro quo. Every loser became the equivalent of a pro football team that loses the Superbowl and then moves to a new city. The old fans forget about them all, fast. Political loyalty exists only for two-time winners. It therefore exists only retroactively.

Voters today see politics as a game: “them vs. us.” Clinton was a two-timer, so he remains beloved by Democrats. Why? Because he let Democrats feel good about themselves. He cut Federal welfare. No problem. He pushed through NAFTA. No problem. He produced not one major domestic political victory. No problem. His tax hike barely sprinkled the rich, let alone soaked them. No problem. He lied repeatedly and got caught. No problem. He had sex with that woman. No problem. Why was there never a problem? For the same reason that a loud-mouthed felon running back on a Superbowl-winning team has no problem with fans. “He’s ours!”

This is politics as the voter’s personal self-image. Politics has almost nothing to do with ideological issues. It has everything to do with the voters’ quest for self-esteem. “He kept them out. I therefore feel better about myself. I’m on the winning team.” That Ronald Reagan starred in a movie called The Winning Team was appropriate.


Have you noticed that Presidential bumper stickers are rare? We have not seen them for over a decade. Nobody wants to identify himself retroactively as having been associated with a Presidential candidate, whether he wins or loses. If he loses, the poor guy has to scrape off the sticker. He voted for a loser. But if the candidate wins, he will then sell out the poor slob on issue after issue. The slob then becomes a retroactive sucker. It is safer to avoid bumper stickers.

While this site is an ideological site, there are still esteem-seeking Republicans who visit it. They get upset when some article points out that President Bush, like his father, has started unconstitutional wars and has run up huge deficits. “It doesn’t matter. He won. He beat Gore. I’m therefore a winner.” If he loses in November, he will be flushed down the Republicans’ memory hole within 24 hours. “Bush? Who’s he?”

Today’s Bushies will become political Alzheimer’s victims if he loses. Bush has no loyal voters, any more than Gore did. Political loyalty is reserved for re-elected Presidents who have proved that they could keep the other party out, twice. If a President cannot prove by being re-elected that he was “the real thing,” meaning that his supporters did not vote for a loser, then he gets to play golf with Gerald Ford.

This is why I find amusing any outraged e-mails from Bush’s die-hard supporters. If he loses in November, they will not recall ever having supported him. He will become Republicans’ version of Jimmy Carter. He will go back to Crawford, Texas, to the 2.5 square mile ranch that he bought in 1999. (It is not true that he named it “Potemkin Ranch.”)

Bush has sold out the conservatives in these areas: the deficit, privacy rights, Medicare, and international law prohibiting offensive war. They do not care. They are not worried about being sold out on issues. They never were. But they are deeply worried about being laughed at by their Democrat friends, who may even remark, “So, you voted for Bush.” This is an impolitic political remark. No voter wants to become the butt of jokes regarding his former man. So, voters have no former men. Loyalty to proven losers is not retroactive.

This means that political loyalty to ethical principles no longer exists in America. A general who is not honored by his troops for having gone down fighting never had an army. He had only camp followers.


The politics of voter self-esteem is the politics of our era. Ours is an era in which almost nobody wants to risk a bumper sticker. Political loyalty upward from the voters no longer exists because political loyalty downward no longer exists. CFR Team A exists. So does CFR Team B. Everything else isn’t worth a bumper sticker.

March 25, 2004

Gary North [send him mail] is the author of Mises on Money. Visit For a free subscription to Gary North’s newsletter on gold, click here.

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