While I found Peggy Noonan's Suzy Sunshine routine a bit much (her saccharine celebration of all things gracious made me want to pick up a Dorothy Parker anthology), I must express some surprise at how fretful and curmudgeonly Republicans are sounding in the wake of the 2012 election.
Even some of my American Thinker favorites (whom I won't name) have lapsed into a doomsday-laden, Archie Bunker-style grouchiness that is, to quote a line from 1776 spoken by Blythe Danner, "not only unsightly, but unseemly."
Even more perplexing was the anger coming from the victorious Left on Tom Ashbrook's NPR's show, On Point. In a segment about familial political battles over Thanksgiving dinner, there were preening, vindictive Democrats complaining about relatives who watch Fox News, with one caller urging Obama supporters to gloat in front of Republican relatives and other listeners e-mailing the host to say they planned to snub their parents who voted for Romney at holiday gatherings.
All I could think to myself was, "What a waste of adrenaline!"
Perhaps I am biased, since I come from a hardcore left-wing family, and am married to a woman who adores Barack Obama and hates Paul Ryan (we speak the international language of love at home, not the polemical language of politics). My father has -- I kid you not -- portraits of Bill Clinton and Al Gore hanging in his home, with a little museum light to illuminate their faces at nighttime. I have a brother who worked for Nancy Pelosi 20 years ago, and a sister who worked for Barbara Boxer in the 1990s. And I attend a mostly Chinese American Baptist church where, like 72% of Asian Americans, the congregants love themselves some Obama.
If I were to let political skirmishes bug me, I would spend my entire life screeching at spiders in an attic somewhere.
The election didn't bug me the way it seems to have driven many right-wingers into self-loathing rage. Here are my two cents worth as to why:
- The number-crunchers are going to get sacked on the right -- and good riddance! I've always detested people who think in statistical terms. The recent piece by Byron York in the Washington Examiner, slicing and dicing the Latino vote in every which way, is classic Rovian cynicism. It lost the GOP this election, and if conservatives have any sense in their heads after the November smack-down of 2012, they will take a sharp turn away from the quantitative and toward the qualitative. Stop obsessing over polls. Realize that formulae to predict elections based on past indicators, whether economic or demographic, are little better than reading tea leaves. People vote; statistics don't. People who try to speak to me by telling me where I belong in some Cartesian graph turn me off. They're almost always wrong. Part of me is hopeful that 2012 will get conservatives thinking about the humanities again.
- I know God knows the truth. Living and working with leftists my entire life has taught me that you can't really change their minds about things, be it about what George Bush is blamable for or whether the Democratic Congress's decision to raise the minimum wage in 2007 might have had a little to do with the unemployment rate. They trust their narratives and will believe that Mitt Romney is a misogynistic corporate marauder no matter what you say. Once you realize that, there's no reason to get depressed when they believe strange things and find others who confirm their madness. I find it mildly entertaining.
- Their plans for the economy simply won't work. I am capable of surviving many forms of economic turmoil, which is the one upside of having had such a scarring childhood and young adulthood. I can survive the disastrous fallout of ObamaCare, the deficit, and energy prices for a few years if I know that eventually, to quote Marx like a devil quoting scripture, conditions will become intolerable and the masses will have no choice but to abandon their fabricated consciousness and return to traditional principles. Last summer I read The Golden Ghetto, a book about the way money imprisons us when we are too afraid of losing it. It was liberating to read it, because it lowered my temperature about economic debates.
- My conservatism is largely geared toward cultural and social efforts, not elections. It sounds corny, and maybe a bit hypocritical given how much I mock the Democrats on this site, but honestly I'm a Christian first, a conservative second, and a Republican third. There are many Christian activists who care about the sanctity of life, bringing back chastity, and protecting religious liberty -- who are nonetheless Democrats because they distrust the Republicans' collusion with big business. Corporate advertising is, in my view, a major force in dehumanizing and Kim Kardashianizing us; too often, I find myself talking to Republicans who defend crass consumerism as part of their exaltation of free markets.
Many Christian activists I know are minorities who told me they couldn't take Romney's stance on social issues seriously for two reasons: (1) If he really thought abortion was murder, he would have had a passionate stance on it throughout his career, and (2) it is hard to take someone's concern for life seriously when the same person is also crusading against tax increases on people who make millions of dollars. I don't fall for such logic, but many of my allies in the Christian world do, and they are still my allies. I do work as a teacher, public speaker, and scholar, forging connections with as many people as possible to reclaim our culture. I have never been under the impression that such struggles align with the Republican Party or find their pinnacle in winning political office.
- I'm confident that Obama's damage will be limited by Obama's limitations. Everyone knows there are no more campaigns in this guy's future, so whatever he does now is what he really intends to do, stripped of any mental chess games. I don't think he has what it takes to carry out a true transformation of American culture. He strikes me as too weak, still too young and immature (recall the third debate, when he growled like a skinny sophomore in a locker room), and ultimately unable to move past complaining about the other side. The groups who support him all know they hate Republicans, but now they have to decide whether they like each other. My gut tells me they really don't, and once they turn on each other, their threatening efforts to change American ethics will implode, and the pendulum will swing.
- I know we did our best. Just like in sports, we win some and we lose some. I'm proud of the work many conservatives did to articulate a strong vision, especially in the primaries before Romney emerged victorious. I didn't care much for Romney, but I sincerely loved Bachmann, Cain, Santorum, Perry, and even to a certain degree Paul. When I went to the Ames Straw Poll in the summer of 2011, I witnessed real grassroots dedication there. It got derailed because of the dying gasps of a cynical, overspent coterie that doesn't seem to want to step aside and let a new generation of thinkers assume center stage. I am convinced that if the Sean Hannitys and Ann Coulters and Laura Ingrahams and Michael Barones and Charles Krauthammers hadn't sucked up all our oxygen, colorful conservatives with new ideas could have changed many American minds, rather than merely try and fail to tailor the Republican case to pre-existing minds for victory's sake.
- But I will never forget how ardently those newcomers to political activism worked during the primaries, and even during the campaign. I can't be bitter for their sake; it wouldn't be fair to them (or us).