There’s nothing worse than waiting for a text message after a fight. Even fresh recriminations are preferable to the silence, and the faintest sounds—real or imagined—send you digging for your phone.
I recently found myself in just such a state. Anticipating the follow-up to a disagreement with an old friend, I was surprised (and later, delighted) when this message from another friend was delivered instead:
“It took Beethoven 10 years to write Ode to Joy (his 9th symphony). All of the others only took him a few months.”
Puzzling over the implications of this uncontextualized factoid, I responded with tentative enthusiasm before receiving this follow-up message:
“When he 1st performed it he was completely deaf and people were crying and giving him a standing ovation. They had to turn him around so that he could see.”
I pictured my friend’s Form in Classical Music professor peppering the class with anecdotes to stave off collegiate exhaustion. A romanticized version of history? Perhaps. But I like the idea that the symphony requiring the most toil continues to maximize the listener’s joy.
In 1972, George McGovern—the Democratic candidate for president—lost to Richard Nixon by 503 votes. When George McGovern died on October 21st, 2012, The New York Times” reported on the lasting impact of McGovern’s work for the Democratic party, both ideologically and institutionally.
“What became known as the McGovern commission rewrote party rules to ensure that more women, young people and members of minorities were included in delegations. The influence of party leaders was curtailed. More states began choosing delegates on the basis of primary elections. And the party’s center of gravity shifted decidedly leftward.”
As we enter the final stretch of the 2012 election season, stereotypical “horse race” reporting is well underway. With McGovern in mind, it is important to remember that “losers” are not politicians with a legacy of sound defeat; they are politicians without a sound legacy.
The media is in the practice of making predictions—I’d note that The Times began interviewing McGovern for his obituary in 2005.
Then there is the case of Congressman Ron Paul, by some measures, a national loser thrice-over. Despite his failed campaigns for the presidency, Paul was on TIME’s “100 Most Influential People” list in 2012. Why? Because, like McGovern, he never interpreted defeat as a mandate to exit the conversation.
Paul’s stance on the Federal Reserve had a significant impact on the most recent Republican primary. In December 2011, Salon’s Gary Weiss wrote, “Paul’s influence is metastasizing to the rest of the GOP field, who are falling over themselves to show that they’ll get tough with the Fed.”
The only candidate who seemed immune to Paul’s position was Mitt Romney, but the choice of Romney didn’t completely enter Paul’s Fed-mongering.
“Paul’s fingerprints can be seen on the party’s official policy platform,” Katy Steinmatz wrote on TIME’s Swampland blog.
Winners, losers, and dreamers may abide in America, but the greatest of these are dreamers. When we talk about the election we focus on two outcomes, but this binary ignores the indelible impressions made by the most lively political participants—those who don’t come out on top.
However, if we cannot expand our measure of influence beyond “win” or “lose,” we’ll find that the audience, and not the composer, is deaf.
It is said that “history belongs to the victors,” but history truly belongs to the passionate. Come election day, one man’s candidacy will end with a concession speech. In its aftermath, let us hope that there are trusted advisers and friends to turn him away from the disappointment of defeat and toward the makings of a legacy worth penning in advance.
As for me? I gave up checking for new texts. The only sound I’ll be privileging this week is a certain symphony on YouTube.