Contest and Concession

Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose. And sometimes you win by giving up the fight. Contest and concession are a part of our human experience, whether the prize is the White House, public opinion o

Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose. And sometimes you win by giving up the fight. Contest and concession are a part of our human experience, whether the prize is the White House, public opinion or even the bedroom.

People can put up a great fight trying to avoid the inevitable. This can be a good thing, an optimistic belief that, if they just hang in there a little bit longer, things will surely work out their way. Such belief is necessary for activists in the area of social justice. Otherwise, it would be impossible for any social progression to happen at all. Environmentalists vs. globalization. Or gays in Cincinnati vs. the language of "special rights." Sometimes you've got to fight until the bitter end.

The world would be a very dull place indeed if everybody followed what is often mistakenly referred to as "conventional wisdom."

Other times such optimism only makes true believers look like fools. They lose their objectivity, their ability to see the effects of their actions. As a result, they appear detached from reality, and we describe them as "in denial." Al Gore vs. George W. Or my own attempts a few years ago to land a reluctant lover. We can easily give up what's in our own best interests when seduced by mistaken beliefs that our perseverance will eventually pay off. The quixotic hero has a certain romantic, chivalric charm, but his quest is pure illusion. He almost always ends up in worse shape when it's over.

The tough part is to know when it's over, and if you've quit the struggle in time to save your own dignity. In my case, I didn't. Nothing blinds us from reality like love. That's why I identify with poor Al Gore. I was simply in love with the idea of being in love, much the same way the vice president is in love with the idea of being elected president; it was a condition that just didn't exist. In Gore's case, he may very well have been elected president. But as in a Bronte sisters' novel, politics, law, fortune and the calendar have all conspired so that none of us will know the truth until sometime in the middle of the Bush administration. It's a truly tragic tearjerker — not so much Wuthering Heights as Dithering Depths.

In the meantime our hero relentlessly pursues his quest, galloping through the courts, tilting at windmills. With each charge, his future credibility is eroded. Gore needs to follow that age-old advice for the lovelorn: Let it go. If it's yours, it will come to you. If it doesn't, it was never yours to begin with. And he might have to wait another four years to find out.

Although it's tough to give up control, sometimes that's how you win in the end. If Gore has not already poisoned his well in the public mind, he could ask for no better situation than for a panel of ballot bean-counters to reveal, sometime after the inauguration, that it was he, not Bush, America had chosen. Such a scenario would instantly catapult Gore to a stature of super-statesman, from which heights he could dictate terms and issues for the race in '04.

But he may have already lost his chance to gain such moral authority, with the failure of his repeated contests. If the public perceives him as in denial, he will end up nothing more than a caricature of himself, much like the populist he called to mind in his convention address, the thrice-failed Democratic contender William Jennings Bryan. We quickly tire of paramours who don't know when to quit.

This is a lesson I had to learn the hard way. But now I find myself in a charming little romance where my own willingness to play it cool has put me in the driver's seat. And the lover in question, after initially asserting dominance, has now conceded himself as enthusiastically submissive. He says, "It might sound funny, but I feel like I'm losing all these inhibitions and tearing down all these walls."

And that's exactly what he's doing. He's learning that real power doesn't have to be fought for, but exercised with grace, and those who strive the hardest for control are only demonstrating how little control they have.

Like the army of lawyers in Florida and Washington, the terms of engagement for me and my squeeze are undefined. We make it up as we go along. And we don't fight over politics. The biggest contest the two of us have is over the amount of hair on his ass. He wants to shave it, while I prefer the status quo. The "conventional wisdom" and dictates of fashion may be on his side, while I feel the intention of nature is on mine. I will continue my appeals for a time, and hope that he'll withhold the blade until spring, or until he gets tired of me, whichever comes first. I'm certain that when presented with the evidence, any judge would rule in my favor. But my wishing for such an outcome will not necessarily make it so.

My man made his concession, and he is quite happy with the result. My own concession is undoubtedly in the works. Now if only Gore would make his. It's tough to give it up to another man, but the benefits might surprise you.


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