Skip to main content

Commentary: A letter to the losers

  • Story Highlights
  • Donna Brazile says she knows what it's like to lose a political campaign
  • She says campaigns are tough on your body, mind and spirit
  • Brazile: Now's the time to acknowledge your success and get over losses
  • She says the work campaign people do is vital and worth the effort
  • Next Article in Politics »
By Donna Brazile
CNN Contributor
Decrease font Decrease font
Enlarge font Enlarge font

Editor's note: Donna Brazile, a Democratic strategist, is a political contributor for CNN. She also is the chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee's Voting Rights Institute, an adjunct professor at Georgetown University and founder of Brazile & Associates, a Washington-based political consulting firm. Brazile, who was the campaign manager for the Al Gore-Joe Lieberman ticket in 2000, wrote "Cooking With Grease: Stirring the Pots in American Politics," a memoir about her life in politics.

Donna Brazile tells those in losing campaigns it will take weeks to readjust and for the world to appear normal.

Donna Brazile tells those in losing campaigns it will take weeks to readjust and for the world to appear normal.

(CNN) -- As someone who knows from experience, I write this open letter to all staff members, volunteers and supporters of candidates who lost last Tuesday.

No matter how much it hurts to lose a campaign, know that this, too, shall pass.

The campaign is finally over, and you are exhausted and ready to transition to your new life or careers.

But before you clean off your desk and throw away everything in the back seat of your car and the apartment you rented during the campaign, take a moment. Shake the hand of someone with whom you worked. E-mail a thank-you note to a person who helped get you through this long political season. In other words, exhale.

Campaigns are not for the fainthearted. They are tough -- mentally, physically and spiritually. Once a campaign ends, an emptiness comes over you. You find yourself struggling to figure out how to become human again. Suddenly, you're going to the grocery store, reading the entire newspaper instead of the clips, and, yes, speaking in complete sentences, not sound bites or barked replies.

I know what it's like to lose a presidential campaign or two or three. No matter how close the results (Gore-Lieberman) or wide the blowout (Walter Mondale-Geraldine Ferraro and Michael Dukakis-Lloyd Bentsen), you're in a state of emotional disrepair and in need of a home-cooked meal.

Acknowledge your success. Think about the nonstop pace that you thrived in but would crush less hardy individuals. You lived for and met multiple deadlines.

You essentially lived with the people you work with and, God bless you, you didn't kill them, though you probably picked up a few bad habits and gained more than a few unwanted pounds.

Now you're sitting at that desk and trying to figure out what to do with everything you've accumulated throughout the quest to reach the city hall, the statehouse, Capitol Hill or the White House.

No matter how hard you try to contain it, you're both angry and sad. Try not to vent and point fingers. It only creates wounds, mostly self-inflicted, and worse, the candidate you believed in and gave your all for doesn't deserve it.

Just thinking back to 2000 still gets me upset. Once the Supreme Court ruled and Al Gore made his concession speech, I remember feeling lost and disillusioned.

I was empty inside as if someone had used a vacuum cleaner and sucked out every bit of my passion for politics and public service. I had no idea what to do with my life. Nobody seemed interested in hiring me; the taint from losing closed every door on which I knocked.

For a while, I was convinced I would never be accepted again as a political operative. I had no life beyond politics and no idea how to spend my days or evenings. I didn't have a dog back then. I have one now.

It was hard listening to the opposition announce members of the transition team who had just spent months beating us over the head. Worse, it was hard to go back to a house I had not lived in for almost a year. In fact, I have not unpacked some boxes from my life in Tennessee. It's still too painful.

I had no energy to start looking for work. I was obsessed with those chads: hanging, swinging and, my favorite, pregnant. Above all else, I did not want to quit fighting. I was angry over the election and the recount. Soon, I realized the world was going to move on, and I would be stuck in the past. The only people who understood my mood were former colleagues.

Grieve. Mourn. Let it out. It's like the death of someone close to you, except there's no funeral to help bring closure, just more election analysis and pundits spewing out what you did wrong.

Be gentle on yourself. It will take you weeks to readjust and for the world to appear normal. Let it be a period of self-reflection and trying to answer the unanswerable "what ifs." But then let it go. In a world of nonstop campaigning, the next season starts now.

Give yourself a gift. Rent videos and catch up on the movies you missed. Don't read the front section of the newspaper -- they are full of the other campaign right now. Pick up a copy of People or US Weekly instead. Turn off cable and switch to the Sci Fi Channel -- snakes and flies are healthier than exit polls and demographic trend lines.

Above all, call your family. Get back in touch with friends who don't do politics for a living. Remember why you made the decision to give up your life in the first place. And remember this -- you're one of the lucky few. You were on a team that made the effort. You fought the good fight. And you had a front-row seat to history.

So forget wearing the loser label. The next team will snatch you up. Or you'll decide to find some other adventure that fulfills your passion. Either way, know your efforts were never in vain.

Congratulations to all the team players, the winners and nonwinners who fought gallantly until the end. Take it from an old-timer who still loves politics: You will rise again to fight the next battle.

So go get yourself some much needed rest and arise in a few weeks renewed with the spirit of making a difference by serving a cause greater than oneself. Your country needs you.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Donna Brazile.

All About Al GoreElection Campaigns

  • E-mail
  • Save
  • Print