Readers write: What does 'winning' in politics mean?

Arizona Sen. John McCain's speech prompted us to ask you – our readers – how you would define winning in the political realm.

Andrew Harnik/AP
Sen. John McCain (R) of Arizona arrives on Capitol Hill on Tuesday, July 25, 2017, as the Senate was to vote on a rejoinder to the Affordable Care Act. After casting a vote crucial to GOP efforts to move ahead on health care, Senator McCain gave an impassioned speech from the Senate floor.

Sometimes winning isn’t about winning.

That’s essentially what Sen. John McCain (R) of Arizona said in a speech from the Senate floor last week, calling on his colleagues to stop being so focused on chalking up wins for one’s party that you lose sight of the bigger issue: solving problems for Americans.

His speech prompted us to ask you – our readers – how you would define winning in politics. The answers reflected a thoughtful tone, in contrast to the intense partisanship we’re seeing in American politics.

“Winning in politics should be characterized by succeeding in policies, investments and decisions that are for the greater good of the people, the communities, the planet. … We win when they work together, not behind closed doors, not when the only way to get attention is to rally against everything the other guys want,” writes R. Evans from Watertown, Mass., who refutes the idea that politics is a zero-sum game – and blames today’s political discontent and vitriol on party divisiveness and a new president “who evaluates everything in transaction terms as a ‘deal’ that has to be won, which means everyone else is a loser…”

In Washington, “compromise” has become something of a dirty word. But a number of those who wrote in saw it as often being essential to the greater good.

“Winning means working together (across the aisle) to find the best possible solutions for the common good by listening to your constituents from all perspectives.  Also listen to those with different solutions than one’s own and together find a means for solving the problems government faces, writes Margery Schleicher from Mason, Mich. “Sometimes it means that you need to understand that at a given moment in time it’s not going to be possible to get all the solution for which you advocate.”

And while the main challenge may be getting Democrats and Republicans to work together, the past week has underscored deep divisions within the Republican Party and between GOP lawmakers and President Trump.

“Should the President work more closely with Congressional Republicans? Yes, and with Democrats too,” says Steve Wells from Tacoma, Wash., who for 14 years worked with the Washington State legislature and was disheartened to learn how much of legislating was built around winning. “I am encouraged by the existence of a Problem-Solvers Caucus in the House…. To me, it’s time to solve or at least address real issues and challenges. I believe the most likely successful path for doing that is to negotiate a bipartisan path. Every side must, to some degree, compromise so that we all win.”

To be sure, that takes patience.

“Winning takes time to nurture if it’s a solution worth succeeding,” says Ms. Margery from Michigan, who advocates cultivating good working relationships with persons who differ with one’s own view, as well as those who agree. Often, she adds, together they can “come up with a better solution than either side previously might have desired!”

John Scott of Batavia, Ill., believes civility is part of winning.

“Winning in politics means, among other things, maintaining cordial working relationships with one’s opponents without engaging in personal attacks. It also means dealing as honestly as possible with the realities that one confronts, avoiding demagoguery.”

Sometimes, though, winning requires sticking to one’s principles, Mr. Scott adds. “It also means getting oneself on the right side of really important issues, the side that one’s moral and spiritual beliefs say is right. This gives one a defense even if one loses the contest, and lays the groundwork for change if one wins the contest.”

These answers were solicited via the weekly Politics newsletter, a free curated collection of articles from the Monitor and beyond. If you would like to subscribe, please send an email to (The automated form for subscribing is temporarily out of service while we transition to a new system for newsletter distribution.)

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