These are the times that try conservatives' souls. A presidential election has been lost by a convincing margin. The winner has taken the result as a mandate, a license to do ... whatever he wants to do.
Laws, regulations, executive orders -- all are being readied. All that's needed is the usual legal boilerplate and they'll appear in the Federal Register to decree, mystify and generally order us about.
As for the laws already on the books, they can be conveniently ignored. Reports go unfiled, deadlines are missed, budgets aren't submitted despite what the law "mandates," and extra-constitutional measures taken.
Fiscal realities are ignored by official decree, and the day of reckoning put off for ever and ever. We're supposed to believe it'll never come. Happy times are here again.
For a while, anyway.
We are all about to be inundated by this era's Wave of the Future. The undercurrent already tugs at our feet as Obamacare goes into muddy effect in state after state. Arbitrary rule by distant functionaries spreads, and the rule of law grows weaker.
Resistance is futile, conservatives are told -- repeatedly. Shut up, they explain. For we lost, didn't we? And it's winning that counts. It's not just the most important thing but the only thing. Call it the Vince Lombardization of the American ethos. "Loser" seems to have become the most damning, the most irreversible word in the American vocabulary.
It shouldn't be. Losing is a great opportunity -- to reassess a philosophy's strengths and weaknesses, and realize which are which. Some conservative tendencies are essential and others expendable, even harmful. Defeat clarifies such differences in a way triumph never could. Especially the difference between the high road and the wrong turn.
Losing can be a chance to regain perspective, get a grip, pull up our socks ... and realize that what looked all-important before an election wasn't. What seemed major turns out to be only minor in the bright light of the Morning After, when the binge is over, and it's time to face some realities, maybe even deal with them.
In politics as in war, retreat is not surrender. For we can now regroup, recruit and prepare to take the offensive again. Much like Washington falling back to Valley Forge, the better to cross the Delaware once his ranks had been replenished.
Defeat is already having its usual, salutary results. See the emergence of a reasonable Republican position on illegal immigration -- a shift led by John McCain, who's been trying to turn his party around on this issue for years, and by Marco Rubio, the new senator from Florida and bright new hope for the GOP. Reason dawns: Instead of fighting the problem, why not try to solve it?
For a worthy and durable cause -- and what political cause is more worthy and more durable than conservatism? -- losing is less an end than an intermission. It's a welcome break from the sound and fury of the campaign. It affords the losers a chance to heal, re-think, and even reform.
We forget what an education losing can be. Who has ever learned from victory? And who has not learned from defeat? A great cause can survive defeat. It's surviving victory that's the real challenge.
Losing calls for its own kind of heroism. It is not the Churchill who triumphs at the end of his life that we recall with the greater admiration, but the querulous backbencher who spent a decade warning about the Gathering Storm, and would not be still despite being cast into political exile.
Elections come and go, but principles endure. The best of causes has risen from defeat, the worst have been encouraged by their early triumphs.
- Arkansas Democrat-Gazette