THE BLOG

The Miracle of Political Resurrections

03/28/2013 01:26 pm ET | Updated May 28, 2013

Easter is upon us, a time when Christians celebrate their belief in the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. In the political sphere, there are also resurrections. Politicians sometimes peak early in their career and then fall into the political abyss. Some then miraculously rise again.

In 1824, at age 29, Democrat James K. Polk was elected to the United States House of Representatives. In 1835 he was elected Speaker of the House. In 1839 Polk was elected governor of his native Tennessee. However, with the proliferation of the Whig Party in the state, Polk lost his bid for re-election in 1841. In 1843 Polk sought the governorship once again but lost. Having been summarily rejected twice by voters in his own state, it appeared that Polk was a middle-aged politician with a great career behind him.

Undeterred by these past defeats, Polk attended the Democratic National Convention in 1844 hoping that his party would remember his many contributions as Speaker of the House and award him with the vice presidential nomination. As luck would have it, the Convention became deadlocked, and on the eighth ballot the Convention chose Polk as a compromise candidate. Miraculously, Polk went on to win the general election. Oddly, the man who could not maintain the governorship of his home state of Tennessee rose from defeat to win the presidency.

Richard M. Nixon was once a rising star in California politics. In 1946, the 33-year-old former Navy Lieutenant Commander defeated a 10-year House incumbent Jerry Voorhees. As a freshman House member, Nixon rose to national prominence for his role as a member of the House Un-American Activities Committee as the committee investigated whether Alger Hiss, a State Department official, was a Communist. In 1948, Nixon won both the Democratic and Republican Parties' nomination for re-election. Ironically, he was running against himself.

In 1950, Nixon was elected to the U.S. Senate, and just two years later he was elected vice president. Nixon served eight years as vice president. In 1960, Nixon won the Republican Party nomination, but failed to secure the presidency in a close election that some still believe he won. Two years later, Nixon made the politically dicey decision to run for governor of California against the popular incumbent Pat Brown. Nixon lost the race by over 300,000 votes. This loss caused many political observers to conclude that Nixon's political carrier was behind him. The defeated Nixon told the members of the press: "You won't have Nixon to kick around anymore."

However, reports of Nixon's political demise were premature. Nixon spent much of 1964 and 1966 barnstorming the nation, collecting chits by campaigning for Republican candidates. By 1968, Nixon had re-secured his political standing and won the GOP nomination. Nixon went on to win the presidency, capping an implausible political comeback that many characterized as nothing short of a miraculous political resurrection.

In 1974, a young state legislator named Michael Dukakis defeated Republican Governor Frank Sargent of Massachusetts. Dukakis ran a brilliant campaign by running to the right of liberal Republican Sargent.

However, Governor Dukakis tried to balance the state's budget through "root-canal" economics. He cut social services, alienating his party's liberal base. He then broke his promise not to raise taxes, disenchanting moderates who had voted for him thinking he was more conservative than the Republican Frank Sargent. These actions led to Dukakis losing his own party's nomination for re-election. Massachusetts Democrats selected conservative Democrat Ed King as their nominee instead of Dukakis.

Dukakis did not go quietly into the night. While in exile, he taught at the Kennedy School of Government. Dukakis came back to defeat King in 1982 by exploiting King's conservative record by highlighting the praise King had received from the Reagan administration. Dukakis then went on to defeat a formidable Republican opponent (former Boston City Councilor John W. Sears in the General Election. Dukakis was re-elected in 1986 with 69 percent of the vote, and quite miraculously just two years later rose to become the Democratic Party's presidential nominee.

In 1978, a 32-year-old political dynamo named Bill Clinton was elected Governor of Arkansas. Clinton was a political wonderkid, a superlative retail politician with seemingly boundless oratorical prowess. However, Governor Clinton lost political support when he signed into law an unpopular increase in license plate fees. In addition, President Jimmy Carter, a close ally of Clinton, had federalized Fort Chaffee in Arkansas, sending Cuban refugees there for processing. As a result, the "boy governor" became the youngest "ex-governor" in American history.

Like Dukakis, Clinton did not exit the political stage. Instead, he learned from his defeat and rose again. Clinton barnstormed the state, asking voters why they rejected him. Clinton won his old job back by taking the unusual step of appearing in a television advertisement in which he apologized for raising the license plate fees. He said: "You can't learn without listening." Miraculously, the voters accepted Clinton's apology, and he went on to be re-elected governor three more times, and was elected president in 1992.

This brings us to the current president. Barack Obama was elected to the State Senate in 1996. Obama then managed to forge a close relationship with the powerful State Senator Emil Jones Jr. His political star was now on the rise. He became a prominent voice on issues involving campaign finance reform, social justice, and welfare reform. In 2000, Obama gambled his political fortune by challenging U.S. Representative Bobby Rush in his bid for re-election. However, Obama's message of bipartisanship and unity did not resonate in the heavily Democratic South Chicago-based Congressional district. Rush succeeded in casting Obama as a resident of the elite Hyde Park section of the district, and as such, out of touch with the needs of the district. Rush mocked Obama's "Eastern elite degrees." The result was an electoral shellacking. Rush trounced Obama by 31 percentage points.

Obama remained in the State Senate, until 2004. His political resurrection began in 2004 when he ran for the U.S. Senate and won. Somewhat miraculously Obama then won the Democratic nomination for president and subsequently won the presidency, completing a phenomenal political resurrection.

In the world of politics, resurrections and miracles apparently never cease.