Look, it’s not the end of the world, or America, or really much of anything. In fact, it could become the beginning of something. Here are eight reasons you should take heart from what you consider last night’s loss.
1. Congressional Majorities: Understand the bullet you dodged. The president’s party tends to lose seats in midterm elections. Had Romney won—especially as inflation becomes more apparent, and likely coupled with continued joblessness—you would have kissed your Republican House majority goodbye. Now you are in position to strengthen that majority, and retake the Senate as well. Some of them might be actual conservatives.
2. Hillary: Her campaign starts today. Mitt Romney, presiding over four years of likely malaise, is her dream scenario. Now she’ll have to convince American voters that she will bring something fresh to what they will have come to associate with her party—scandal, declining international respect, and economic failure. The party in power tends not to produce new ideas and slogans, it tends to collapse on itself in venality. That gives her a much tougher row to hoe—especially as the Obama people try to hang Benghazi around her neck.
3. Remember the States?: You are a group that claims to believe in local decision-making, though nobody would know from the education and crime policies your political allies have advanced in Washington. Your party will find itself allying with states again, which will become the natural loci of opposition to top-down Washington policies. This will be an opportunity to get re-invested in federalism. Because, you know, the Founders and Constitution and stuff.
4. Education Reform: John Adams wrote that this country’s liberty cannot survive without a people who have wisdom, knowledge, and virtue. This is the American deficit you need to worry about. You want to know why the Republican Party refuses to nominate anyone who actually reflects your principles? Because the liberal vision fits on a bumper sticker, and yours requires an understanding of economics and the nature of man.
I’m going to tell you something at which you will nod in agreement, but you need to start acting as if you actually believe it. There is no changing this country without first changing its schools. We currently sling—just using national averages here—about $300,000 at every public school classroom, and yet we continue to decline in science and math, and reading comprehension has yet to come out of its 1970’s slump.
And the thing is, more competition won’t fix the problem. We have forgotten how to teach. We have churned out content-free curricula, and abandoned the training of teachers to education academics who have no practical skill, and now we tell ourselves the solution is pay-for-performance. Conservatives used to understand that markets can’t fix everything. You need to relearn that lesson in the education field, because until you fix this problem, the rest of your efforts will be in vain.
5. Accountability: Every American president makes decisions that cost innocents their lives, but this administration has been callously negligent in that regard, and then shamelessly willing to conceal its complicity. American servicemen in Benghazi left unprotected. Mexican teenagers in Juarez, slaughtered at a birthday party with firearms from the Fast and Furious operation. An American boy searching for his father in Yemen, murdered by a drone strike. The one group not protected by new health care regulations—infants who survive botched abortions.
It’s true that journalists have failed to cover these tragedies with the same zeal they would apply to a Republican administration, but it’s also true that most presidents see their scandalous behaviors receive greater scrutiny in a second term. If you’re skeptical, consider this hard political reality: there’s no way Hillary Clinton is taking the blame for Benghazi.
Add to these scandals the continuing cronyism that characterizes this administration’s approach to everything from energy policy to the auto industry bailout, and eventually even the New York Times will start paying attention. It’s too juicy, and their guy won’t be running for office again, so none of them need to worry that they’ll inadvertently sabotage moving forward with hope and change by breaking a story.
6. The Coming Correction: The truth we have refused to acknowledge for five years is that hurling money at inherently flawed institutions—be they banks with perverse incentives or car companies making crummy products—will only encourage bad behavior. Now we have the easy money throttle fully pressed, we’ve taken on sixteen trillion dollars in national debt, and all of it to forestall pain that we could have gotten through by now, if we’d just faced the music like adults.
A reckoning is coming, and we all know it. Conservatives with the long view should realize the advantage in having someone from the party most willing to expand government at the helm when that happens. You want another Reagan, and I submit to you that you don’t get a Reagan without a Carter.
7. Time in the Wilderness: But the thing is, you’re not going to get another Reagan if you don’t discover an animating principle to guide you. You nominated Mitt Romney—a decent family guy who can barely make a cogent statement about the U.S. Constitution, and who championed in Massachusetts a forerunner of your most hated Obama domestic policy. If you want polls and lawyers and lobbyists to determine your future, then he is your man.
Before Romney, you nominated John McCain, mistaking his great physical courage for leadership. You thought tossing Sarah Palin into the mix would make for a winning combination. Think on that for a moment. Ponder the desperation it reflects. Before McCain, you aligned yourself to George W. Bush, an earnest and patriotic American who piled on the very regulations you claim to despise, mistook hubristic nation-building for war, and who, when the economic crisis hit, played this disastrous spend-our-way-to-renewed-prosperity gambit when he had nothing to lose by sticking to the conservative principles he espoused.
Now you’re flirting with Gingrich again. Who else do you want to bring back into the fold? Ralph Reed? Jack Abramoff? The truth is that you have become so obsessed with stopping the other guys that you have been willing, time and again, to align yourselves with fools and jackals.
So now you have four years. Spend at least a little of it getting back to your principles.
8. Existential Debates: Conservatives have become the little boy who cried wolf. Remember when Bob Tyrrell was scurrying around Arkansas, trying to prove that the Clintons were murderous, drug-smuggling overlords? Remember the fear that Clinton was secretly a socialist? Remember how we laugh and laugh about that now, and secretly wish he could run for office again?
Now you face an administration that cannot name a problem that the federal government should not have a hand in solving. It nationalized companies. It laid the groundwork for the eventual nationalization of the entire health care industry. It cripples businesses and then rushes to their rescue with subsidies.
And the thing is, voters like that. Bill Clinton had to go on national television and proclaim that the era of big government is over. Barack Obama’s reelection campaign consisted of listing government programs, and demonizing his opponent for wanting to rein them in. And he won, despite sitting on a federal debt that boggles the mind.
There’s no more room for Republicans to emulate Bob Dole and Arlen Specter. There’s no money left. You can no longer support, conservatives, a party that in practice wants everything its opponents want, just at 80 percent of the price. If your conservatism is going to mean something, then you have to start making the case, boldly and without apology, for the complete restructuring of entitlement programs, and for elimination of layers of regulation. Not with vague, Romney-esque hand-waving, but with specifics.
This is a good thing, because it treats voters like adults. Which means that maybe more of them will start acting like it. And if not, at least you went down standing for something.