“I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Democracy simply doesn’t work.” — Kent Brockman
And here I believed that Obamacare, chronic 8 percent unemployment, stagnant economic growth, crippling spending and the potential for more would sink a sitting president. Boy howdy, was I ever wrong. I take small comfort that people far smarter than I am were much more mistaken than I was — Michael Barone and George Will among them — but even so, I and my fellow crestfallen conservatives must ask ourselves just why we were so far off the mark.
My friend David Frum (also smarter than I am) has for years been urging Republicans to moderate if, in David’s parlance, they wish to orchestrate a “comeback” in national politics. With a monsoon of respect for David’s intellect, I disagree with that notion.
Our previous nominee, John McCain, was as moderate as they come — even downright lefty on some issues — and he got trounced. Mitt Romney, meanwhile, despite apparently successful efforts to paint him as a corporate pirate, swinging in from the hard right with a dagger in his mouth and a briefcase full of pink slips in his free hand, is and was a moderate, too.
This may seem like utter rhubarb to those who have been fed a steady diet of Romney’s supposed radicalism, but here is a man who spoke of tax cuts as “spending,” enacted gender quotas (see also, “binders”) and, not for nothing, constructed the state-level prototype for Obamacare.
Moderate or not, we have seen that GOP presidential candidates are painted as extreme. With that in mind, can Republicans reconcile their core beliefs with an electorate that thinks in completely different terms? For example, we believe that a simpler tax system with lower rates increases tax revenue, while causing the wealthy to pay a greater share, and we can prove it by citing presidencies all the way back to Calvin Coolidge (as economist Thomas Sowell has done). But what good does that do when the reflex of every journalist, politician and undecided voter is to refer to tax cuts as something you “pay for”?
On social issues, Republican candidates will always be asked the most difficult, gut-wrenching questions, regardless of whether they choose to campaign on such matters. In a way, this is a good thing, as it forces us to scrutinize our views. But Todd Akin and Richard Mourdock ought to have known that, sure as God made little green apples, Republicans running for office will be asked about abortion in the cases of rape, incest or the life of the mother. If the best you can do is make Leviticus sound like a Planned Parenthood pamphlet, let someone else run.
To be sure, Democrats will almost never be asked to defend partial-birth abortion (or “late-term” abortion, as they insist it be called, along with attendant euphemisms like “evacuating the cranial cavity”), nor will they be asked just why an infant who survives an abortion should be denied medical care and left to die — as was Barack Obama’s policy as a member of the Illinois legislature.
But that’s just life on the right. There are many such unfair double standards; it’s why Republican Sharron Angle is supposedly too obtuse for the U.S. Senate, yet a Democratic loony tune like Debbie “I can feel global warming when I fly” Stabenow cruises to re-election.
Republicans knew much of this going into the election, though. So again, why were we wrong and can we win without compromising our beliefs?
Columnist Andrew Klavan notes, “The smartest political writers in the country, all of whom are conservative, will now be addressing those questions.” But is it even a question of who is smarter than whom? For example, is Charles Krauthammer smarter than Paul Krugman? (Answer: Oh, yes.) That said, Krugman was closer to calling this election than Krauthammer was.
Barone has been typically gentlemanly and philosophical in defeat: “So I was wrong. I take some pleasure in finding I have been wrong, because it’s an opportunity to learn more. As I prowl through the 2012 election statistics I will have an opportunity to learn much more about America and where we are today. … Lots to learn for all of us.”
And perhaps therein lay the answer. Maybe we were so far off because the United States simply isn’t the country we thought it was.