I wasn't going to write this column unless John Kerry wins next Tuesday. Now I realize it's better to say it all now before we know who wins the election.
I have one plea to conservatives. If the Democrats do manage to squeak through next week, I have one request: Let's let this guy govern. I know it's going to be tempting to scream foul or to start making fun of his daughters or to put under the microscope whether John Kerry really was in Cambodia for Christmas 1968.
But let's at least give him the chance to pull the country together.
American democracy has been taking a beating lately. Looking at the emotions running loose now, you begin to understand why democracy doesn't always work in other countries.
The mistake about democracy is to believe that the only thing that matters is the majority rules. That isn't true. Majority rule is only half the story and probably not the most important part. What is more important is that the losers are willing to accept the verdict.
For the last four years the Democrats have come perilously close to defying this principle. They have never accepted the legitimacy of George Bush's victory in 2000, even though it's written right there in the Constitution. From that point it's been easy to proceed to the premise that we wouldn't be in Iraq and maybe the terrorists wouldn't have even attacked at all if George Bush hadn't been President. The result is the state of unreality the Democrats inhabit today.
If the Democrats lose again this time, I think they're going to go over the cliff. There are elements of the Democratic Party that are so self-righteous that I doubt they'll be able to function as a minority party. They'll go extracurricular, stonewalling court nominations, disrupting Congress, parading in the streets and taking "direct actions" to try to accomplish what they can't win in the voting booth.
Unfortunately, the worst thing that could happen is for the Republicans to turn into a mirror of that party. We had a lot of this during the Clinton era. The demonizing of Bill and Hillary Clinton, the snooping around in their sex lives -- I was never very happy with any of that. Granted Bill Clinton was a libertine, but I don't think anybody can withstand too much scrutiny of their personal life.
The fact remains that the country was reasonably well governed during the Clinton era. We balanced the budget, passed welfare reform, and created a good deal of economic prosperity. The things that we didn't do right -- ignoring the terrorist threat, allowing nuclear proliferation -- were part and parcel of the deal and have now been corrected. Altogether, though, divided government isn't that bad. Even if Kerry wins, the Republicans will still control Congress, so it won't be a complete disaster.
There's one more thing that makes a reasonable acceptance of the will of the majority well advised. Kerry is going to lose his electoral base faster than any President in history. At least half his constituency thinks that once he wins we'll be out of Iraq in three months. This isn't going to happen. When all the electoral balloons have floated away, Kerry will face the same dilemma George Bush now faces -- a hostile Middle East, an indifferent Europe, a fragile democracy in Iraq, and a world where rogue nations are acquiring nuclear weapons as fast as possible.
Kerry is not Jimmy Carter -- a Dogpatch simpleton who thinks he can fool the world by grinning. (He does have a vice president who fits the description, but that's another story.) Kerry has enough aristocratic starch in him that he may be able to stand up for his country if it becomes necessary.
It will become necessary. After six months in office, Kerry will be seeking asylum from the pacifist loonies that surround him. At this point, the Republicans will be in a position to accommodate him. They can then co-govern, exactly as they did with Bill Clinton.
But all this will be possible only if we don't first destroy the Presidency in the process of choosing one. For the sake of the Republic, what Republicans should exercise now is a little intelligent self-restraint.