Alexander: the most valiant loser

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First it was John Kasich who paid a surprise visit to one of our Monitor breakfasts (yes, he unexpectedly dropped in near the end of a session with pollster Ed Goeas) to explain why he had just bowed out of the presidential race.

He hadn't realized that as active a congressman as he had been, he still was a relative unknown. But he indicated he would try again: "I haven't given up on my dream of becoming president."

And then came Lamar Alexander, throwing in the towel after a valiant effort. "Too bad," I thought to myself when I heard the news.

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I had always felt that I was a part of Mr. Alexander's quest for the presidency. Back in 1991 it had been my task to invite a speaker to the midwinter Gridiron banquet. And I had asked the then Education Secretary - and former Tennessee governor - to entertain us with a few words.

Instead, Alexander gave us a truly boffo performance at the piano where he far outshone both Harry Truman and Richard Nixon who, years ago, had also surprised Gridiron audiences by leaving the headtable lecturn and tickling the keys.

And when Alexander returned to the speaker's table, I must have shown my enthusiasm for his crowd-pleasing act by telling him he should run for president. Anyway, in recent years, he, on a couple of occasions, has told me, joshingly, that I was to blame for giving him the idea.

Alexander, as we know, logged thousands of miles in his campaigning effort in 1996 and to little avail.

Oh, yes, he made some promising showings, enough to encourage another all-out effort this year.

He came in to a breakfast a few months ago and seemed to be optimistic. He had been spending lots of time in Iowa, he said. He seemed certain that he would pull a surprise there.

And now we know that he didn't. And I'm a bit saddened by it. No, I'm not a supporter of his, or of any candidate. But I know how exceptionally hard this fellow worked and over so many years: So I hurt for him in his loss.

It's good that Alexander is stepping out.

A candidate can go at it too often and too long. Remember Harold Stassen?

We forgot what a marvelous "boy governor" Stassen was in Minnesota years ago as we ridiculed him for running so many losing presidential races.

Alexander has stopped well short of becoming a Stassen.

Indeed, he has been the perfect loser. He has given his all, day after day, year after year.

He has attracted many voters - but, clearly, not enough!

And he has been superb in explaining clearly what he thought the issues were and where he stood on them.

And, oh yes, Alexander has always been the gentleman, as much as can be allowed in the rough game of hotly contested politics.

Who will be next to leave the fray? Some observers say it will be Dan Quayle although he still is hanging on and, who knows, might make a surprise comeback.

To me, Mr. Quayle is truly the sad figure of this campaign. The media have turned him into a caricature of himself. This earnest fellow, who once was regarded as one of the best informed senators on the Armed Services Committee, now is perceived as a bumbler in the eyes of so many people.

Yes, Quayle's rather halting way of speaking - and his spelling! - have helped to shape this caricature. But it is an untrue and unfair one.

Still, who ever said that there was fairness in the political world?

And now I would like to make a suggestion:

Why can't we have a reward for someone besides the winner of these campaigns? At the military academies there is a last-in-the-class recognition that the recipients appear to be proud to receive.

So I'd like to see the press pick out and reward the most valiant loser in each presidential campaign.

And for the Republicans let's have a Lamar Alexander loving cup!

(c) Copyright 1999. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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