Four years ago on the eve of the 2004 election, I wrote in a Spectator column, "Let's let this guy govern." In case John Kerry won, I said, conservatives should stand by the election without carping about skullduggery or fraud.
The Democrats had already introduced this poison into the system by spending four years disputing the results of 2000. My appeal was that Republicans not do the same. If the electorate chose Kerry, give him the chance to impose his agenda and let it play out without introducing unnecessary rancor into the system. All this was tempered, of course, by a fair degree of confidence that Kerry was probably going to lose. (Democrats did not return the favor and people such as Robert Kennedy, Jr. still argue that Kerry actually won in Ohio.)
Now on the eve of the 2008 Election I'd like to write the same column under different circumstances. There is a very strong possibility this time that John McCain is going to lose and Barack Obama will be the next President, bringing in the most extreme left-wing administration since 1932. In the shadow of this event, I'd like to propose a few rules for going into loyal opposition:
Don't blame McCain. Already the backbiting has begun that John McCain was the cause of the disaster. McCain should have gotten tougher, he should have relaxed more, he should have done this, he should have done that. Let's face it, the deck was almost totally stacked against him from the outset. Foreign wars are never popular. The British threw Winston Churchill out of office only four years after he had stood alone against Hitler and Nazism. Harry Truman left office in the middle of the Korean War as the most unpopular President of the century and was only rehabilitated later by academic historians. Lyndon Johnson was defeated by Vietnam. Given the extended Iraqi conflict, there was bound to be a backlash against Republicans, even if we have now gained the upper hand in the conflict. Even with that, McCain still held his own until the country experienced worst financial meltdown since the Great Depression a month before the election. Given the circumstances, it's amazing McCain has stayed in the race this long.
Admit there will be good aspects to an Obama Presidency. The anthem since Obama was nominated is that if he isn't elected it's because America is racist. It is already clear that Obama's leftist pedigree and his redistributive social agenda are far more controversial than his skin color. So let's turn the whole thing around. If Obama does get elected, then America is not a racist society. It is indeed a remarkable accomplishment that only 43 years after Dr. Martin Luther King was clubbed at Selma, America is able to elect a black President. So let's celebrate that. Electing Obama will probably raise our stature in the world as well. It may even persuade Muslim extremists that America is not the Great Satan, but don't bet on it. In any case, let's wait until an Obama Administration takes shape before starting to criticize.
Concentrate on policy differences. Liberals are already talking about a "First 100 Days" that will transform America. But not much of this "change" agenda has been laid before the public. A case in point is the Orwellian "Freedom of Choice" Act for labor, which eliminates the secret ballot and allows union representatives to strong-arm employees into signing up for a union shop. Although the law has passed the Democratic Congress, it has never been truly debated. When people see the implications, there is going to be plenty of room for dissent. The same goes for the revival of the "Fairness Doctrine," which is a blatant attempt to push Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity off the air. Remember FDR's packing of the Supreme Court. If Obama turns out to be thin-skinned and tries to stifle debate, he may lose public support quickly.
Many of Obama's policies are bound to fail. His "tax the rich" scheme is based on the ludicrous notion, endlessly promoted by Paul Krugman and other liberal economists, that all the wealth gains since the Reagan Administration have accrued to a narrow slice at the top -- the "130,000 families." This is utter nonsense. The "inequality" Krugman discovers in tax filings has actually been the migration of small businesses into Subchapter S filings to avoid America's corporate tax rate (now the second-highest in the world). Raising taxes on "the rich" will raise no new revenues and only send businesses and individuals scurrying for other tax shelters (including some abroad). So too, Obama's energy policies are a recipe for disaster. If he clamps down on coal without permitting nuclear power to take its place, we'll be stuck trying to run the country on windmills, which will be a national introduction to elementary physics. Conservatives are going to have plenty of reason to critique Obama before long.
Expect the pendulum to swing back. Anyone who runs on a vague platform of "hope," "change," and "bringing us together" is bound to start disappointing people from the outset. Obama's economic policies, if anything, are likely to prolong the current downturn. In Iraq he risks real disaster by withdrawing too soon and charges of cowardice if he doesn't make a commitment in Afghanistan. His energy policies will take America down the path California trod to its 2000 Electrical Crisis. None of Obama's nostrums will address America's underlying problems -- the trillions spent on importing energy, the failure to develop viable alternatives, the hollowing out of the industrial economy and resulting decline of dollar. Four years of liberal stewardship will make all of these worse.
Republicans have not been completely out of power since 1980. A period in the wilderness will mean a chance to regroup. Remember, it only took four years of the Carter Administration to bring on the Reagan Revolution. It wouldn't be surprising to see it happen again.