On the morning after the presidential election, David Goodfriend was crushed. Dumbfounded. He sat in his Toyota Corolla in a parking lot next to a hiking trail in Bethesda, listening to talk radio, alone and inert, wondering where it all went wrong.
What just happened?
Why did my candidate lose?
What kind of America am I living in?
“When George W. Bush was re-elected, I thought, ‘This is the end of the country as I know it,’” said Mr. Goodfriend, a Washington lawyer and former Clinton White House staffer. “Those of us who supported John Kerry just couldn’t believe that more people supported Bush. We had one view of the Iraq War and the American economy and were convinced we were right – but Kerry lost.
“This time around, you have people who cannot believe that there are more people who support Barack Obama. They see the economy differently. They see social issues differently. There’s a very close analogy there.”
Indeed. As conservatives mourn – and by mourn, we mean full-on, biblical wailing and teeth-gnashing, and that’s just from Karl Rove – Republican nominee Mitt Romney’s defeat in a contest most on the political right were convinced he would win, they can find consolation in the fact that liberal America has been through the same dark night of the partisan soul: the doubt and disbelief, the anger and finger-pointing, the fuming promises to move to Canada.
(Well, probably not Canada, because it has socialized medicine.)
In fact, conservatives should do more than take solace in past liberal anguish – they should take notes. Because while some on the left aren’t exactly sympathetic regarding the election’s outcome, they do have empathy. And plenty of practical, hard-earned coping advice.
To wit: Democratic strategist and CNN contributor Paul Begala moved past Mr. Kerry’s defeat by refocusing on the 2006 midterm elections, writing a self-critical book with fellow strategist James Carville and spending time coaching his children’s Little League and basketball teams.
“And drinking,” Mr. Begala said in an email interview. “Especially Shiner Bock beer.”
Apocalypse not now
Like Mr. Goodfriend, David Quigg spent the day after the 2004 election in a daze. A 40-year-old photographer and political writer from Seattle, he recalled looking at his two children – one an infant, the other a toddler – and breaking down in tears.
“That surprised me,” Mr. Quigg said. “I had this vision that the world was going to be this place where they were going to have to pretend to be Canadian to travel anywhere, because America’s reputation would be so bad. I wasn’t even angry, just superdepressed. I suspect that is probably similar to what conservatives are feeling now.”
Perhaps. Not to put too fine a point on it, but some on the right are, well, freaking out. Consider:
Online, the Cincinnati Tea Party posted a short obituary for the nation reading “RIP America July 4, 1776-November 6, 2012 Death was ruled a suicide.”
In Arizona, a 28-year-old woman reportedly ran over her husband with her car because she thought he had contributed to Mr. Obama’s re-election by not voting.
On Twitter, Donald Trump blasted the Electoral College, claimed “the world is laughing at us,” called American democracy “a sham and a travesty,” said the nation was in “serious and unprecedented trouble” and called for both a “march on Washington” and a “revolution.”
“The Republicans are convinced that the republic is dead,” said Democratic strategist Jim Duffy. “Liberty is dead. The state is going to run our lives. No more entrepreneurs. No more free thought.
“Well, the older I get, the more I’m amazed that the extremes on both sides are so much alike. In 2004, a lot of Democrats felt that Bush was a cowboy fool from Texas who literally couldn’t walk and chew gum at the same time and was leading the country to ruin. As it turns out, we’re still here.”
As Mr. Goodfriend points out, the United States has survived the Civil War, the Great Depression, Pearl Harbor and Watergate. Plus 10 seasons of “Two and a Half Men.” No matter how disappointed conservatives feel following Mr. Obama’s re-election, apocalyptic histrionics give the nation too little credit and Mr. Obama far too much – particularly when coming from otherwise vocal advocates of American exceptionalism.
“Many of us thought that Bush would be the end of America as we know it,” said comedian and author Baratunde Thurston. “And sure, there were a few policies and wars we strongly disagreed with. But when it comes to the important things, we still have our bacon and our ‘Real Housewives.’”
It’s not just them, it’s also you
Conservatives long have criticized liberals for being elitist, smug and out of touch, convinced that they are both smarter and morally superior to the very voters they’re attempting to persuade.
In the wake of Mr. Romney’s loss, the right would do well to avoid the same mistake.
“There’s no good lesson in getting your face bloodied in a political fight if you don’t realize how much you believed your own spin and PR and BS,” said Nato Green, a left-leaning comic, activist and writer for the FX series “Totally Biased With W. Kamu Bell.” “In 2004, it was a hard lesson to realize that half of America just didn’t like us. But like in comedy, you can’t play nationally by hanging out in coffee shops in San Francisco and Portland. If Republicans want to win people over, they need to go spend some time hanging out with undocumented immigrants and people who actually have had abortions.”
Following a bitter electoral defeat, Mr. Goodfriend said, it’s easy and emotionally satisfying to write off the opposing slice of the electorate – as liberals did by dismissing red states as “Jesusistan” or as Fox television host Bill O’Reilly did when he concluded that Mr. Obama’s voters “want stuff” and “feel entitled to things.”
It’s tougher and more necessary to look in the mirror.
“After Bush won, the Democrats had to say that Kerry had some flaws as a candidate, the way Romney had some flaws,” Mr. Goodfriend said. “They had to do some soul-searching when it came to why voters didn’t trust them on some of the issues that carried the day, like national security.
“That’s actually a healthy process. The worst thing you can do is just say everybody else must be wrong because we are so right. That is a recipe for losing the next election.”
Love it, don’t leave it
In the annals of empty gestures, threatening to leave the country following a disliked political outcome ranks somewhere between President Nixon’s post-resignation “V” sign and basketball coach Phil Jackson’s book “The Last Season.”
In 2000, Pearl Jam singer Eddie Vedder and the late director Robert Altman both promised to vacate America if Mr. Bush won the presidency; eight years later, actor Stephen Baldwin promised to depart if Mr. Obama won the Democratic nomination; two years after that, radio host Rush Limbaugh said he would move to Costa Rica if Congress passed the Affordable Care Act.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, all of the above remained American citizens. Which is also why the 2007 film “Blue State” – a love story about a disaffected supporter of Mr. Kerry who disembarks to Canada following the 2004 election – is, in fact, fictional.
“I had a feeling of estrangement in 2004, like, ‘I don’t understand where I live,’” said “Blue State” director Marshall Lewy, who once volunteered for Mr. Kerry’s campaign in Ohio. “I thought it would be a funny premise for a movie. But I didn’t actually consider moving to Canada – not until I actually had to go there to make the movie.”
Over the past week, distraught and presumably right-leaning citizens in more than 20 states reportedly have signed online secession petitions, with one from Texas gathering roughly 50,000 signatures. An online poster with the handle “Blue Collar Republican” went one step further, posting an open letter to the Queen of England that states in part, “if you can find it in your heart to forgive us and take us back, we promise never to trade British oppression for Socialist tyranny again.”
The problem for bag-packing conservatives, said humor writer and self-professed liberal Chuck Thompson, is that Canada is far too leftist to serve as an acceptable backup nation.
It always gets better
For his part, Mr. Thompson spent the day after the 2004 election at an Arizona resort, where he saw a group of Republicans – decked out in campaign gear – checking in at the front desk, talking and smiling and elated over Mr. Bush’s victory.
Mr. Thompson wanted to hide. He wanted to head back to his room and pull a bedsheet over his head. He later attended an Inauguration Day protest in Washington.
Of course, that was then.
“To all conservatives, I’d say, ‘Don’t worry,’” he said. “Four years ago, the names George Bush and Sarah Palin used to drive me and my friends into a red-faced frenzy. Now they’re irrelevant. Obama will become the same.”