Politics Change; Political Ambitions Don't

There are any number of lessons to be learned from the almost forgotten life of John Anderson, the late congressman from Illinois. Dead at 95, he represents something of a puzzle to those of us still trying to figure him out.

He was entirely too convenient a choice for those of us who swallowed the line about Ronald Reagan’s being entirely too radical a choice for the country to make for president in the deeply divided election year of 1980. But by then the Democratic incumbent, Jimmy Carter, had already demonstrated his incompetence, however mixed it was with occasional flashes of idealism. Which way was the American voter to turn?

At first everything seemed to be going well for the attractive candidate from the Land of Lincoln, but as it turned out he never finished better than second in any GOP presidential primary. He wound up losing the presidential primary in Illinois despite his popularity with young people. Instead the voters turned against him in favor of candidates they believed could succeed. So he jumped the party’s ship and chose to run as an independent candidate for president, which may have been his fatal political error. Voters said they liked him, but when it came to casting their ballots, it turns out that they preferred a candidate who could win. Come Election Day, he got only about 7 percent of the national vote.

A man of strong beliefs, he stuck by them throughout the campaign, picking and choosing his battles. He…