How to Win By Losing

Text from Robert Kennedy's "Day of Affirmation" address in Cape Town, June 6, 1966
Text from Robert Kennedy's "Day of Affirmation" address in Cape Town, June 6, 1966 Source

Most folks outside of Ohio don't know John Boccieri's name. Perhaps most folks inside Ohio don't know his name either. Or even how to pronounce it (BOW-cherry). But John Boccieri is a name worth knowing.

He's a son of Youngstown, was an outfielder and catcher at Ursuline High School, got a baseball scholarship to St. Bonaventure, stole more bases than anyone else in the league one year. "Majored in baseball and minored in economics," he'd say. He tried out for the big leagues, ended up playing one year in the minors for the Portsmouth Explorers. "It's a sport where you fail far more than you succeed," he told a reporter. "What other sport can you go 3-for-10 and be considered a great player?"

He's got those perpetual boyish looks. Photos from the cockpit of what's probably a C-130 Hercules - he served in the Air Force, did four tours as part of Operations Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom - show him looking about the same as he does today.

He was a State Representative and then a State Senator, a Blue Dog Democrat from his northeastern district in an area whacked by plant closings.

Then in, 2008, state Senator Boccieri did something that hadn't been done in half a century. He ran for Congress from Ohio's red 16th district (a district made obsolete after redistricting following the 2020 census). And he became the first Democrat to win in 51 years, locking in his election by 10 points, while Barack Obama lost that district by two points.

But Congressman Boccieri would only serve one term. And some would say, including the 44th president, that it may have been because of one vote he took on March 21, 2010.

The Republicans, hungry to get the district back, lambasted him for the vote. (And let's be honest: the Democrats would have done the same.) On November 3, 2010, the election wasn't even close. Jim Renacci, owner of a Harley Davidson dealership, a Chevrolet dealership, a nursing home, wiped the floor, part of the midterms that the 44th president would call a shellacking for Democrats.

"After serving two years in Congress, I have absolutely no regrets," Congressman Boccieri said during his concession speech to a small gathering in the Canton Metropolitan Center. Years later, he would say, "If I was back in Congress, I would take that vote again."

If you look at the roll call vote from March 21, 2010, there's Congressman Boccieri's AYE vote, right below Congressman Roy Blunt's NO and right above Congressman John Boehner's NO. The latter would go on to become Speaker of the House, saying that Republicans would take the bill apart "piece by piece" if necessary.

They wouldn't. Couldn't get the votes, actually. The bill remains the law of the land. A law that some 21.3 million folks this year alone have taken advantage of.

Was it a perfect bill? Of course not. Few things that go through the Congressional meatgrinder are. "Is it everything I wanted?" then-Congressman Boccieri said of the bill. "No. But we've got to start somewhere."

Congressman Boccieri thought it was a good enough start. He'd actually voted against the bill, which had a much larger price tag, the first time it came up. But he'd gotten a phone call, maybe a few, from 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. Speaker Nancy Pelosi had spoken to him, maybe a few times. There would likely be no bill without his vote. Then a less costly bill came up.

Plus it was right there in black and white on his Congressional campaign website: "America's health care system is broken...To reform American health care, we must both lower costs and increase access."

So when Congressman Boccieri took the March vote on the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, the vote that may have cost him his seat, the vote on the bill that would become known as Obamacare, he was making good on a promise.

Ten years after the healthcare vote, the 44th President did a campaign stop for his Vice President in Poland, Ohio. "One of my favorite people, former Congressman John Boccieri, is here," President Obama said to the crowd.

And when he got to talking about Obamacare, the bill's namesake said that he was going to embarrass the former Congressman. "John Boccieri, he may have lost his Congressional seat because he voted for health care, but that's the kind of person he is. And that's the kind of responsibility you want from your Representatives, and I couldn't be prouder of him for it. That's a class act right there."

Winston Churchill claimed that history is written by the victors. But before history is written, it is made; often by those forgotten souls who left it all - their job, their status, their power - on the field in the name of what they believed the moment needed.

So while there are many reasons to be disheartened by modern politics, John Boccieri is not one of them.

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