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Rule 1: Don't Quit. Don't Ever Quit.
The successful politicians we've worked for and the successful leaders we've studied are a varied lot. They include the smart and...well...the not-so-smart, world-class charmers and world-class jerks, the lucky and the star-crossed. So we don't believe that brains or personality or good fortune are the most important attributes in a winner.
Those are the qualities that make the difference. Real winners know they've got to lose a lot. Look at the 1998 Yankees. The year they ran up the best record in the history of baseball, they still walked off the field as losersfifty times.
You're Not as Big a Loser as Lincoln Was
Everybody fails. Everybody. Every schoolchild has heard the story of Abraham Lincoln's great accomplishments. How he saved the Union and emancipated the slaves. But you can learn more from Lincoln's failures; he certainly did. And they were far more numerous than his successes.
He failed in business (as a shopkeeper). He failed as a farmer. He ran for the state legislatureand lost. His sweetheart died. He had a nervous breakdown. When he finally got to the state legislature, he ran for Speakerand lost. He ran for Congressand lost. He was rejected for a job as a land officer. He ran for the United States Senateand lost. He ran for vice presidentand lost. He ran for the Senate again. Lost again. And when he was finally elected president, the nation he was elected to lead broke apart.
As commander in chief Lincoln was derided as inexperienced and inept. He lost the First Battle of Manassas. He lost the Battle of Big Bethel. He lost the Battle of Kessler's Cross Lanes. And he lost at Blackburn's Ford and he lost at Ball's Bluff and he lost at McDowell and he lost at Front Royal. He lost the First Battle of Winchester and he lost at Cross Keys and he lost at Port Republic. He lost at Drewry's Bluff and he lost at Gaine's Mill and he lost at Cedar Mountain. He went on to lose at Bristoe Station and to lose at Thoroughfare Gap and to lose at the Second Battle of Manassas.
Unfazed, Lincoln pressed on. He lost at Harper's Ferry and he lost at Shepardstown (after which he fired his general). Then with a new general in charge, Lincoln proceeded to lose the First Battle of Fredericksburg.
And that partial list of failures was all just in the first two years of the war. Lincoln was prone to depression. During the war his son Willie died and his wife was the subject of bitter political attacks for her allegedly spendthrift ways (including buying the famous bed that today is in the Lincoln Bedroom of the White House).
But despite all that failure Lincoln triumphed in the end.
The great Texas songwriter Kinky Friedman once warbled, "They ain't makin' Jews like Jesus anymore." And they ain't makin' politicians like Lincoln anymore either. But his lessons of toughness and tenacity are just as relevant today.
We guarantee this: If you show us a successful person, we'll show you someone who's failed. Your humble authors were abject failures at political consulting for years. James began his career as a political consultant in Louisiana after concluding he was such a poor lawyer that if he had to hire an attorney, he wouldn't hire himself.
So he went into the political-consulting business. And lost a lot. After being 0-for-life in Louisiana, James signed on to the Dick Davis for Senate campaign in Virginia.
Then in 1984 James hooked up with the Lloyd Doggett for Senate campaign in Texas. That's where he and Paul first teamed up. And where they first lost. Big time. They suffered what up to that time was the worst defeat a Democrat had received in Texas history.
The Three-Time Loss from Holy Cross Runs a Fourth Time
Undaunted, the Carville and Begala team went on. And our careers were resurrected by a man who was then known as one of the greatest failures in his state's political history.
Bob Casey had run for governor of Pennsylvania three timesand lost three times. A devout Catholic educated by the Jesuits at Holy Cross, Casey was dismissed by the smart guys in Pennsylvania politics when he decided to try a third run for governor in 1986. He had a hard time finding a campaign manager. And as a political-consulting team that had never won a race in our career, we had a hard time finding a candidate. We were like the last two kids at a homecoming dance, homely and awkward. All the good-looking, popular, cool kids had already paired off, leaving us losers behind.
But as Casey used to say, "The view from the canvas can be highly educational." He said he didn't mind being called "the three-time loss from Holy Cross" because the name "captures something about my life and my whole idea of America itself."
Casey used his previous failures, which had come at the hands of a political establishment that didn't want his independent, activist brand of government, to connect with the tough-as-nails people of his Rust Belt state. In 1986 he ran for governor a fourth time in the Democratic primary against Ed Rendell, the slick and savvy Philadelphia D.A.and surprised the doubters by beating Rendell handily.
But in the general election Casey, who was from Scranton, was running against a Scranton. William W. Scranton III, to be exact. The movie-star-handsome scion of the legendary Pennsylvania political family and two-term lieutenant governor under the popular Republican governor Dick Thornburgh. It was, Time magazine wrote, like a John O'Hara story.
Casey's father, Alphonsus, had worked in the anthracite coal mines of northeastern Pennsylvania. He'd been a mule tender, a kid who led the mules hauling loads of coal out of the mines. His hands were gnarled from being run over by the heavy coal cars, but his spirit was fierce. Alphonsus Casey had lifted himself out of those mines, gotten an education and become a lawyer. He died in his forties, leaving his son a legacy of bullheaded determination.
Young Bill Scranton's background couldn't have been more different. His father had been governor and a leader of the moderate wing of the GOP. He'd been talked about for the presidency, before the party moved to the Goldwater right. It was a classic matchup: The Scranton family had owned coal mines. The Casey family had worked in them.
After a nip-and-tuck campaign, Scranton opened up a lead in the final days by promising to stop all negative campaigning. The move was effective. The campaign had been rough, and Scranton wisely capitalized on the growing revulsion among voters. We were slow to pick up on itin part because we were such junkyard dogs that we were having a ball in the brawl. Besides, we knew that our attacks were more powerful than our positive message.
What do you do when your most effective weapon is neutralized? If you're Bob Casey what you don't do is give up. What you don't do is give in. In this case we tried to lift the campaign out of the mud by announcing that Casey had forbidden us from making an issue out of the alleged drug use in young Scranton's past. (Of course, that little announcement made it an issue, but folks didn't think it counted as negative campaigning.)
Then we did the cruelest thing you can do to a politician: We held young Bill Scranton to his word. We searched every corner of the Keystone State for any sign that Scranton was secretly trashing Casey. Nothing. The election was on November 4, and on October 25, James's forty-second birthday, we went to an afternoon movie to take our minds off our misery. The movie was Peggy Sue Got Married, and the only thing either of us remembers about it is that James periodically burst into tears in the dark, crying, "We're gonna lose! We're gonna lose!"
With that out of our system, we returned to campaign headquarters. There, by some miracle, we heard from a supporter who'd received a piece of attack mail from the Scranton campaign that accused Casey of being part of a corrupt era of politics that had brought Pennsylvania to its knees.
The supporter was upset. We couldn't have been happier. For one thing, Casey had been the reformer who'd fought his own party's corruption for years, so we knew there'd be a backlash. But, more important, we'd caught Scranton attacking, breaking his word, acting like a hypocrite. Gleefully we counterattacked, screaming at reporters with an indignation we hoped hid our glee. We accused Scranton of pontificating on TV, while his hate message "slipped silently through the mail." (As if something ever traveled noisily through the mail.)
Scranton said he hadn't known about the mailing. Big mistake. When you're running for governor, you know or you ought to know everything your campaign is doing. And even if you don't know, you don't pass the buck. People can forgive a mistake, but they hate a weasel who tries to shift blame. Besides, this was a 600,000-piece mailing, hardly the kind of thing that falls through the cracks of a campaign.
To drive our point home, we called Billy McGrath, Casey's son-in-law who worked for a big printing house, and asked him if he could get us 600,000 envelopes and deliver them to our campaign headquarters. To this day Billy's response is the stuff of Pennsylvania political legend. He didn't ask why. He didn't ask if we were crazy. He only asked, "What color?"
Casey went on to win that race and on inauguration day we gave him a small sculpture, carved out of the same anthracite coal his father had helped to mine. It was an image of a load of coal being dragged out of a mine by a mule tender and a team of mules. At the base we'd had engraved: "To Bob Casey, the son of a mule tender who is governor today because he never gave up and never gave in."
Casey would go on to be reelected by one of the greatest landslides in Pennsylvania historycarrying sixty of the state's sixty-seven counties and defeating his Republican opponent by more than a million votes.
In any other political story that would be the happy ending. Casey's toughness and tenacity led to triumph. But his twenty-year odyssey to become governor was just a tune-up for the challenges to come. During Casey's tenure as governor he had heart bypass surgery, then he was diagnosed with a rare blood disorder that was slowly causing his heart muscle to thicken into a solid mass.
Giving up and dying quietly was not an option for Bob Casey. He found the smartest, most aggressive doctor he could, Dr. Thomas Starzl. Starzl was a pioneer in organ transplantation, and he gave Bob Casey a new heart and a new liver. Casey served his full term and is widely regarded as one of the best governors in Pennsylvania history.
Conservatives rightly remember him for his staunch commitment to his pro-life views. But they conveniently ignore Casey's lionhearted liberalismthe fact that he'd been endorsed for governor by the Philadelphia Gay News, that he'd pushed for strong environmental regulations, strong unions and a strong government. He created a children's health-care program that became the model for the nation, passed tough environmental laws and reformed public education.
Outside the Governor's Mansion Casey built a statue of a heroic, muscular workingman, in the style popular during the New Deal. Casey worked hard to raise the money to build it. "Because," he once told us, "I want every son of a bitch who ever lives in that house to walk out that door every morning and be reminded he works for the working people of Pennsylvania."
Even more than his political accomplishments or his public-policy contributions, Bob Casey's lasting lesson is the raw power of sheer determination. You won't believe how far you can go if you simply refuse to quit.
Where the Comeback Kid Got His Resilience
Of course, even his most ardent detractors have to admit that Bill Clinton is the king of the comeback. There are a thousand reasons why attacks that would have killed anyone else barely fazed Clinton. But if you want just one, and you want to get touchy-feely about it, you should have known his mother.
Virginia Kelly was a piece of work. Flamboyant, full of life, wide open to whatever came her way. You would never have known by talking to this Hot Springs Auntie Mame that she had been widowed before her first son was born. That her second husband had been an abusive alcoholic who once shot at her with a gun. Or that her third husband had gone to prison, then died of cancer. Or that her beloved son Roger had had a terrible bout with drug addiction, which had landed him in prison as a result of a sting operation approved by her older son. Nor would you have guessed that, during her eldest son's first term in the White House, she was dying of breast cancer and she knew it.
"The most important thing," she said to Paul toward the end, "is to never, ever become bitter. I know some people get shot up in wars and some people die. Everyone has their share of heartache. But you must never become bitter. Never, ever give in to bitterness. Because becoming bitter is giving up."
Ms. Virginia Kelly, God rest her soul, was never bitter. She was no quitter. And neither was her firstborn son. He never said it out loudat least not to usbut we always suspected that in the darkest hours, when everyone was wondering how he could keep on going, he heard his mother telling him, "Bill, you just keep putting one foot in front of the other. The presidency is easy; life is hard." Maybe that's why Clinton always seemed so wonderfully (or, to his adversaries, maddeningly) unaffected by his tribulations. Through his mother he'd seen real pain. Impeachment is a walk in the park compared with burying three husbands and facing terminal cancer with a smile.
Put Yourself in the Position to Win
One of the reasons that people who persevere often succeed in the end is that they put themselves in a position to win. The great Mississippi singer-songwriter Steve Forbert has a song titled "You Cannot Win If You Do Not Play," and like most powerful truths, this one is simple.
The easiest way to be undefeated is to never compete. But folks who don't try, who don't fight, who don't compete are losers already.
If you're one of the people Teddy Roosevelt called "those cold and timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat," who sit on the sidelines bitching, do us a favor: Don't buy this book. If you've already bought it, thanks, but give it to someone who wants to get into the arena and fight.
Michael Jordan was able to hit the winning shot at the buzzer in part because he wanted the ball when the game was on the line. The other nine players on the court were skilled professionals, but none of them had the cojones to grab the ball, take the risk and accept the consequences. They might have missed. Hell, Jordan might have missed, too. But you miss 100 percent of the shots you don't take.
Different people have different comfort levels with risk. That's okay. We're not trying to make you into something you're not, and we're not trying to sit in judgment of people who are not as comfortable putting themselves on the line. And there's an important place in the world for people who are risk-averse. We certainly hope the doctors and nurses who have our lives in their hands are risk-averse. But then again they're taking risks with other people's lives. We're talking about taking risks not with your lifeand certainly not with anyone else's lifejust with your career.
Because while we know and love people with a low tolerance for risk, the stark reality is that they are people who have a low propensity for success. Again, this is not a moral judgment. James's daddy was the most risk-averse person you ever saw. He was perfectly content to spend his life as a rural postmaster. For the life of him he could not understand why James, when he was young and single, would want to drive all the way to New Orleans to drink beer and chase women with his buddies. "We've got women here in Carville," he'd say. "And we've got plenty of beer. Besides, you can't park in the French Quarter and God only knows what might happen to you."
He was so risk-averse he didn't even much like it when the country would come out to fix a pothole. "They're just going to mess around and make it worse," he'd grumble.
To be fair (and accurate), Chester Carville was a success in the most important things in life: a devoted husband of thirty-five years, the father of eight children, he served as an army major in World War II and both practiced and preached racial tolerance at a time and in a place where racism was as thick as the humidity.
But this book is about politics and strategy and business and success. They are not the most important things in life. But as we said in the introduction, this ain't the Bible.
Chances are, if you bought this book, you've probably got a higher tolerance for risk than Mr. Carville did. Our hope is that we can ease that tolerance level up another notch or two. Because the odds are easy to figure: If you take more chances, you've got more chances to win. And the converse is also true: If you have a low tolerance for risk, you've got a lower probability of success.
You've probably seen this phenomenon at work in your personal life. How many times have you said "I'm not going to call that girl (or guy). Probably wouldn't go out with me anyway." Well, she (or he) is damn sure not going to go out with you if you don't ask. Back when James was a student at LSU he was smitten with a pretty young girl. She was everything he wasn't: attractive, popular, cool. James had a few classes with her, knew her casually, and she was always nice to him. More times than he can count he picked up the phone and started to call her. And more times than he can count he slammed the phone down in a panic before he dialed the last number.
Fast-forward from that campus crush of 1963 to the lecture circuit of 1997. Thirty-four years later James was giving a speech when a young woman approached him. She was attractive and cooland strangely familiar. She said, "Mr. Carville, I don't know if you'd remember her, but my mother went to LSU with you. She said she always had a crush on you, but you never asked her out."
James, on the other hand, was reminded once more about how foolish it is to be timid. What was she going to do, that pretty and popular girl, laugh at him? Of course not. She was far too sweet and well bred to do that. But because he was terrified of rejection, James never took the risk. The fewer stories like this you have when you lay your head down at the end of your life, the happier you're going to be.
The point here is very simple. Don't quit.
It's the ultimate easier-said-than-done lesson. Nobody thinks of himself or herself as a quitter. And yet most people who fail do so because they simply give in. They get tired, or they're worn down, or they lose whatever zeal got them motivated in the first place. There's a reason pit bulls are the best fighting dogs. They're not the biggest or the strongest or the scariest. They're the most tenacious. Once they commit to taking a piece out of your leg, there's precious little on heaven or earth that can get them off you. So be a pit bull, not a Chihuahua.
You can throw the rest of this book awayand have a damn good shot at being successful in lifeif you swear, right here and right now, that you'll never, ever quit. (But that would be sort of like quitting on the book, though, wouldn't it? Hmmmm. You had no idea we were capable of such existential thought, did you? It's probably best to read on, just so we won't call you a quitter.)
The Legend of Jack LaPellerie
Of all the many legends of James's hometown of Carville, Louisiana, perhaps none has endured longer than that of Jack LaPellerie. Jack was a boilerman on the navy ship that carried President Woodrow Wilson to the signing of the Treaty of Versailles, which ended World War I.
Like virtually all of the white folks in Carville, Jack's people came from Francewith a stopover in Canada. Then these Acadians made their way to Louisiana, where they're known as Cajuns. But Francophiles' love for the motherland endures, and when it was learned that Jack was actually going to France, the local French teacher and lover of all things French, Miss Mamie Grevenberg, was beside herself.
During the entire time Jack was gone, Miss Mamie breathlessly lectured anyone who would listen about the thrilling sights Jack was beholdingsights no one in that poor little burg had actually seen. So you can imagine the celebration when Jack returned from his heroic voyage. Miss Mamie rushed up to him and in her thick Cajun-French accent asked, "Jacques, tell me everything. Was the food heavenly? Is the Eiffel Tower really as high as the clouds? Is the City of Light as romantic and magical as a Victor Hugo novel?"
And Jack LaPellerie said, "Hell. I never left the boat.
You don't know what could happen in a foreign country like that. Food could be spoiled or the water could make you sick. Nosirree, I stayed safe and sound on that boat."
James's grandmother loved to tell him that story with her own punch line: "And don't you ever forget, son, that ninety percent of the people around here thought Jack was right."
Copyright © 2002 by James Carville and Paul Begala