This likely seemed illogical or even foolish to some sitting with me – though I was certain of it. I felt the Dems had overreached (not unusual for victors following an election) and that if we governed as if we had won the race more than the other side lost, then we would not have the kind of policy and political successes we would enjoy than if we were to acknowledge and appreciate the actual circumstances of our victory. My sense is that we did not recognize this reality and history confirmed.
One is given authority to govern differently following a winning race (as opposed to being victorious). Usually one truly wins an election, or a party wins emphatic support for their policy agenda, in a re-election-type race. That is when people clearly know what they’re supporting and, if victorious, are essentially saying “we want more”. Unlike being the victor when the other side loses, where one’s policy proposals and strategy must be more inclusive and cooperative with all factions (kind of how most folks think it should work all the time).
I revisit this now because it is often very difficult for the victor in any election to have the humility and introspection or reflection to be able to say: ‘I didn’t win this election, they just lost’. This is precisely where I think we are right now – in my home state of Georgia and, yes, in the nation.
For new Georgia senators Warnock and Ossoff, my counsel would be to appreciate the closeness of their respective races and to intellectually and emotionally grasp the reality that one of the major reasons for their electoral success was that the Republicans failed miserably in connecting with voters and actively lost their elections. The same is true in Washington, D.C., where the Senate and House are as closely divided as we’ve seen in a generation. When your opponent loses an election, especially a re-election, it should cause one to govern differently. The voters are not so much saying “we want all of your policies”, as much as they’re saying “please be different than the previous folks”.
I understand that electoral victories are multifactorial. Having run for office and won primary and/or general elections every two years for 20 years, each of my elections was different. It’s also not to say that winners shouldn’t actively work for their policy priorities, they should and they earned that privilege.
It is to say that governing is hard stuff, and reflection and humility on the part of elected officials would go a long way toward healing our current divide and helping build that more perfect union.
Congratulations to those who were victorious over those who lost. May those victors recognize and appreciate the distinction between winning and victory, and the consequent path for responsible governance.
Tom Price, M.D., is a former Georgia state senator, former member of Congress and was the 23rd U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services.