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CNN Today

What's the Psychology of Losing?

Aired December 14, 2000 - 4:20 p.m. ET


NATALIE ALLEN, CNN ANCHOR: Well, whether it's politics, sports, or any other competition, losing can be tough. We've all lost at something or other.

Joining us now to talk more about the psychology of losing are Robert Robins, a political scientist at Tulane University in New Orleans, hello to you; and former New York Congresswoman Elizabeth Holtzman, who lost a 1980 U.S. Senate race to Alfonse D'Amato by one percentage point. She is currently an attorney with a New York firm.

Ms. Holtzman, I'm curious to know, is it still painful to hear someone say you lost to your opponent by one percentage point after all these years?

ELIZABETH HOLTZMAN, FMR. CONGRESSWOMAN: Well, actually, I won my first race by probably even less than a percentage point, so, win or lose, that's it, the percent. But it's tough, because the closer it is, the tougher it is to lose, and particularly it's dragged out, because you go through all of what I could have done and then your hopes are still up there, and I'm sure it must have been tough for Al Gore, because the emotional roller coaster still thinking there was a chance, still thinking if the votes are got counted, he'd win. And then to have that cut off, it's got to be hard.

ALLEN: Did it bring back unpleasant memories for you, watching him last night, and does it get better over the years or worse over the years thinking what could have been?

HOLTZMAN: Thank goodness for that human psychology. You try to repress all the bad memories, so it was -- no, it didn't really bring them back for me, but I just felt a lot of compassion for him and I knew what he was going through. It's tough.

ALLEN: Robert Robins, let's talk about that. I was thinking, right before this interview, of the kicker who's brought in to win the football game with just one kick, and then misses and then they always zoom in to show him up close, and I hate to see him, I feel so badly that they lost such a close one. Does it get easier over the years for Al Gore, or does it get worse?

ROBERT ROBINS, TULANE UNIVERSITY: Well, it all depends what happens. If Al Gore turns around and becomes president in 2004 or 2008 that will make it a lot easier. Otherwise, there will always be a sense of disappointment, I think even greater with Al Gore than with the kicker you mentioned, because Al Gore believes, with some reason -- I don't know that he is necessarily right, but that he really won and that he had it.

And it's harder to lose something that you believe you had than to not get something that you wanted.

ALLEN: Is that healthy to always believe that? How does he get over that, believing deep down that he should have had something? I'm sure a lot of people out there who wanted a job and didn't get it, felt deep down that they should have?

ROBINS: That's right. And time pretty much heals most wounds, although not all of them. He'll be disappointed for a long time over this.

ALLEN: To Ms. Holtzman, you've been a U.S. Representative and I'm wondering what your thoughts are about, everyone in Washington talking nice right now -- getting along and unity and reconciliation. Is this something that you think could actually come true in Washington?

HOLTZMAN: Well, it could. I mean, I don't know that it's going to be easy to tame some of the ferocity and bitterness that you saw among the House Republicans who lodged this unwarranted impeachment against Bill Clinton, who wanted to shut down the government. That tone has to go. If it goes, and if George Bush -- and I thought he stepped out on the right foot yesterday. I thought it was a conciliatory speech and I think the quoting of Thomas Jefferson, the Democrat, was a very nice touch.

I think if he can -- if he recognizes that it in essence he won by one vote in the Supreme Court, and there's a level of humility and a sense of reaching out. A lot of people don't agree with his policies but are willing to accept him as president. If he does that, I think he can govern well. I just think he's got to remember to tone down the extremists in his own party and to move really to the center, appointing his cabinet, not just conservative Democrats or right-wing Democrats, but mainstream Democrats. I think that would go a long way, and more moderate Republicans, not extreme right-wing Republicans. I think that would set an important tone.

But, by the way, about Gore, the problem about Gore's disappointment is that. if somebody does count the votes, some news service or University or some other research institution, and it turns out that Gore really did win the popular vote in Florida, that's going to hurt, really, and it will hurt the country too.

ALLEN: Well, finally, let's get Mr. Robins in here to help the country out here with some psychology. Many people say they felt better after the two short speeches last night. But in the long-term, how does this country move on and heal and how do the folks in Washington get work done and get along at the same time?

ROBINS: I think you make a good point, and Ms. Holtzman also, the poll numbers. The country is not terribly divided, it's the people in Washington that are very much divided, and very angry. The country itself is rather calm about this, and there's a lot of unity and, in fact, the country voted centrist in this matter, so the real problem is not so much bringing the country together, it's -- the problem is bringing the politicians in Washington together.

ALLEN: Do you have a last word of advice for the politicians in Washington?

ROBINS: Well, I think Ms. Holtzman is right. I wouldn't put all the blame on the Republicans. I think there are extremists in the Democrats as well. But both parties have their extremists and both parties are better trying to lead from the center.

ALLEN: Robert Robins, Elizabeth Holtzman, thank you for joining us today.



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