Woe is us. But next time, the woe will be for the other guys. Keeping that in mind is the secret of surviving the morning after.
Losing an election always hurts; winning hurts the other guys, which is why winning is so sweet. This one hurts conservatives a lot, and it's particularly painful for those with unrealistic great expectations.
Pessimists abound. Rep. Ron Paul, who holds the North American franchise for pessimism, says we no longer have to worry about the "fiscal cliff" because we already lie in the rocks and weeds at the bottom of Gruesome Gulch. Rep. John A. Boehner, the speaker of the House who promised defiantly on election eve to hang tough on the Republican mantra of "no new taxes" even if the president were to be re-elected, now sounds not so sure.
Some of the more prominent conservative pundits are on their way to New York in search of a building high enough to jump out of. Rush Limbaugh went to bed on election night "thinking we had lost the country, I don't know how else you look at this." Sean Hannity told his Fox News audience that he wouldn't succumb to depression, but it looks to him like America is "no longer the center-right country that it once was" and "has been conditioned to be an entitlement society." If that's not depression, it's a reasonable facsimile of it. When Ann Coulter, the prolific author and pundit who writes exclusively in purple ink, told talk-show hostess Laura Ingraham that the nation is now interested only in handouts: "There is no hope."
Miss Ingraham told her: "Pep up; move forward, girl." Good advice. It's easy for anyone to be misled by the media, whose patron saint is Chicken Little. The media cover politics the way television "journalists" cover the weather: all panic, all the time. They can't help it; it's all they know. The coverage often reminds me of my devout grandmother, beyond elderly when she called me in tears one day many years ago to tell me that "God is dead. They just announced it on the television."
We've read obituaries for the political parties and philosophies before. The Republican Party was doomed to an unmourned grave after LBJ dispatched Barry Goldwater in 1964; eight years later Richard Nixon won 49 states, and the Republicans and Democrats traded places in oblivion. Jimmy Carter was the author of Democratic renaissance in 1976, but the renaissance faded in just four years, and Ronald Reagan won 49 states in 1984. The Democrats were sent back to the graveyard. Anyone who believed everything he read would have imagined the landscape littered with the bloated corpses of the two not-so-great political parties. The corpses always got up to dance again.
The problem with lugubrious morning-after analysis is that it's nearly always wrong. Everything always looks different later. Barack Obama is entitled to a little basking — he won, fair and square — but he'll need the remembrance of how good it once felt. Second terms are never as much fun as presidents expect them to be. You could ask Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton. Nixon was chased out of office, Iran-Contra exploded in the Gipper's face like a trick cigar, and Bubba was impeached with only the consolations of a comely White House intern.
Conservatives misled themselves about what America thought of a president who had inherited a bad economy and made it worse. Americans have retreated to two echo chambers, where everyone competes to see who can say the most incendiary things about the opposition.
Some conservatives couldn't give up the notion that the president is a secret Kenyan communist; liberals couldn't give up the notion that everyone who opposes the president is a secret Ku Kluxer, listening for the dog whistle to send them into the streets in search of the lynch mob.
The echo chamber where everyone gets his "news," filtered through ignorant and often inexperienced "journalists" unchallenged by an editor with a blue pencil and looking for opportunities to use it, reinforces silly notions.
The election did not settle much of anything. We're still a center-right country with a president of diminished popularity (his 7-point victory in 2008 shrank to 2 points this year), a closely divided Senate where Republicans can still work the rules to derail radical legislation, and a House with enough Republicans to prevail against the worst that Democrats can devise.
The game is still on. Conservatives have the persuasive case to make, but invective, insult, rant and rave won't do it. Reasoned argument will. This goes for Democrats, too. They should remember the infallible Pruden Principle: Nothing recedes like success. History proves it.
• Wesley Pruden is editor emeritus of The Washington Times.
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