Nothing is more American than winning. It’s so central to the American ethos that the Founding Fathers didn’t even bother to scribble it into the Bill of Rights. An amendment enshrining our right to strive for victory likely would’ve elicited a collective “Well, duh” by our bewigged forefathers. You might as well have guaranteed 18th-century citizens the right to breathe air or to wear jaunty tricornered hats. Thomas Jefferson didn’t begin the Declaration of Independence by announcing to King George III that “We hold this truth to be self-evident: Just win, baby.” He didn’t need to – Lexington, Concord, and Bunker Hill had demonstrated that the ancestors of future Boston Red Sox fans were in it to win it.
Despite our national addiction to sports, it’s victory within the arena of politics – those recurring, well-funded bar brawls to decide who’s in charge – that most enthralls, unifies, and divides the nation. And even the shrine to the faith of apolitical science, the House of Medicine, enjoys intramural bouts of political pugilism.
Case in point: the campaign for leadership posts – particularly the job of president ‑ during last week’s American Academy of Family Physicians’ Congress of Delegates in Denver.
All the signs and symptoms of the American obsession with political victory were there – the ardent campaign supporters, the Technicolor campaign buttons, the sea of slick, sophisticated campaign brochures and origami-esque candidate cards that likely denuded many an Oregon hillside. The three-way race to be AAFP President-Elect even spawned a cliffhanger runoff election that ended in victory for a family physician from the state of Washington. And the aftermath of the presidential election featured the requisite shock, disappointment, and grumbling failure analysis within the ranks of the politically defeated.
But what came next were phenomena all too rare in America’s favorite blood sport: graciousness and a unifying patriotism.
The magnanimous winners were almost literally overcome with emotion. They offered up acceptance speeches seasoned with the type of teary-eyed anecdotes usually served up by scenery-chewing Oscar winners right before the music cuts short their pathos and cues a commercial. The losers were no less generous and prone to edge-of-weepy acknowledgements during an open-mic session. And each and every one professed a shared love of their career country: family medicine.
In victory and defeat, the AAFP political competitors’ push for victory was tempered by Abraham Lincoln’s “better angels of our nature.” At that moment, those better angels of American medicine, family physicians, embodied Abe’s selfless ideal of political healing.
At least at that moment.
During a postelection stroll through a chic Denver dining district, one family physician was overheard declaring to his dinner companions, “They kicked him to the curb in favor of some slacker from Washington.”
Apparently, even America’s better angels prefer winning.
–Terry Rudd (on twitter @FamilyPracNews)