Having offered advice to Republicans last week about how to behave if we lost the election (and catching a whole lot of hell for it), I'd like to take a turn now and offer some advice to the actual losers, the Democrats.
First of all, start by admitting you lost. That would be a big change from the last election when, after four years, Democrats never really conceded losing in 2000. Operating under the delusion that the election was "stolen," they were able to dismiss everything George Bush did as illegitimate. Even September 11 -- why, that was just Bush's fault as well.
Second, it's time to admit you have become the minority party. This isn't so bad. Republicans were a minority party from 1932 until 1994. I know it's hard because for Democrats the political is always personal and the personal is political. But there are other things in life. Look at the trial lawyers. They're essentially the Democratic Congress in Exile, out of office but functioning like the "private attorneys general" they fancy themselves and making a lot of money as well.
But it isn't the same, is it? To Democrats, politics means changing things -- equalizing income, dispensing social justice, curing the sick, creating sustainable ecosystems. Pass a law and watch it happen! It never occurs to you that people can pursue these goals in the private sphere -- and can accomplish things rather than just telling other people what to do.
The Old Democratic Party is going to have a tough, tough time dealing with this. The truth is, John Kerry was about the best candidate the Democrats could have offered. He had a war record, a patrician air, and enough verbal felicity to win people's trust. Yet Kerry was rejected. Somehow his vague "plans" about Iraq and health care never range true. People have gotten smart. They aren't seduced by Democratic ideals anymore.
It isn't going to get better. Since Southerners stopped fighting the Civil War and joined their conservative brethren in the GOP, sectional differences have become meaningless in America. Instead, the country is divided rural vs. urban, cosmopolitans versus the average American. The cosmopolitans are able to project their vision out from New York and Hollywood, but people aren't listening anymore.
You could see this the morning after with Katie Couric trying to cope with the idea that the election was decided by "values." Values? What the heck is that? It never occurs to her that three hours later viewers will be treated to an afternoon of soft-core pornography masquerading as soap opera. None of this raises an eyebrow in Manhattan, but parents in Peoria trying to keep their kids away from the television are sick of it.
SO HERE THE DEMOCRATS are, stuck in a country with a bunch of rubes who believe in things like going to church and not being enthusiastic over homosexuality. Bruce Springsteen's lyrics have come full circle. (He wasn't originally very happy about being "Born in the USA.") Is there any way that Democrats can function in this environment?
First you must begin by realizing that American values are real and the American electorate only entertains liberal ideas when it is feeling secure and experimental. John Kennedy won office because people had become almost bored with the prosperity of the 1950s. Jimmy Carter got elected because he was an innocent waif floating on the Sea of Watergate. Bill Clinton won because we had triumphed in the Cold War and the country had little to worry about.
Those opportunities aren't going to present themselves very often. Today we live in a dangerous, dangerous world. On Election Day a Moslem extremist in Holland murdered the great-grandnephew of Vincent Van Gogh because he had made a movie critical of Arab culture. These are not ordinary times. We have enemies who don't play our game but are striking at the very root of our civilization.
Democrats have got a lot of thinking to do about our place in the world and the roots of our culture. They don't have a very good record. In the 1960s, liberals loosened the screws on the criminal justice system just because it might be fun to see what happened. They expected crime to drop. Instead, it rose to unprecedented heights for thirty years. Only in the 1990s when states started reinforcing the death penalty and Rudy Giuliani decided to reimpose social order did the wave subside.
Democrats will face their first big test when it comes time to confirm that long line of federal judges. Can they finally acknowledge that appointing judges is a prerogative of the governing party? Or will they reduce themselves to an obstreperous minority, grinding the system to a halt rather than admitting defeat?
It's time for a different agenda. Sooner or later, liberals must reconcile themselves that they are indeed "Living in the USA."