It's 2004, about a week after the election. This was a very, very difficult time to be a 22 year old liberal Democrat. It was easy to despair. I know the "let's move to Canada" sentiment is very mockable, and rightly so, but when you feel like your country has rejected the things you stand for so thoroughly, it's easy to grasp at rhetorical excess. Anyway.
I was at the supermarket, wearing my "Fuck Bush"-- not "Buck Fush", "Fuck Bush"-- t-shirt. I was getting some junk food. As I moved along, I noticed an old man notice me, and my shirt. He had a US Naval veteran cap-- one of the ones with the name of the ship he served on stitched onto it, I can't remember the ship I'm afraid-- and it was adorned with buttons, including an American flag pin. He squinted at me a moment. He walked right up to me and sort of leaned in, to give me that sideways look (don't know if you've ever had that look, the one where an elderly person sort of cocks his head to get you at just the right angle). He was right there in my face, and he took two fingers and poked them into my chest.
And he said, "...where can I get a shirt like that?"
At that moment I knew that I couldn't allow myself the necessary self-pity to despair. I knew that I had to remember that times change, and that these things turn. More importantly, it was a reminder to me that the spirit of service to a nation requires one not to give up the hope of a country consonant with one's values, because giving up in that fashion is to abdicate the basic responsibility of democracy.
Let's remember, first, that this was four short years ago, when many Republicans talked openly and optimistically about a permanent Republican supermajority. Times change. All victory is temporary. Back in those days, there was a feature on Salon called the Daou Report, which was sort of a left/right breakdown of blog posts. The night Bush won reelection, posted was something by some conservative blogger whose name is lost to time. He said it was time for
conservatives to "curb stomp" American liberalism, to snuff it out, so that our menace couldn't come back and threaten the nation again. Well, here we are. How quickly eliminationist rhetoric turns to the scramble for good news, the chirping back and forth that "really, he ran a moderate campaign," feeling good about preventing 60 Democrat Senators (to go with 260+ Democratic congressman, and a Democratic President). Times change and will again.
As all of our pundits on TV are saying, the pendulum can and will swing back again, and often frightfully quickly. And, of course, we are reminded by that damned biased mainstream liberal media that this is a center right country, with center right values, where liberalism has to always operate in a defensive crouch, and must always hang back and act cautiously, lest it spread itself too thin.... For a liberal media, I have heard quite a lot from it, the past few hours, about how weak and unpopular liberalism is. You would think, having elected a liberal President, and a largely liberal contingent of new Senators, to go with a definitely liberal House, well-- you would think that would prove there's some liberal sentiment in this country. You might think I'd get to declare a bit of a victory, in my "big trend" vision of the country.
But I'm actually cool with not having that. I'm cool. I've said before that I don't believe in "big trend" visions of politics. It should always be about the next issue, the next vote, the next election, the next bill, the next discussion. So my approval of this coming Presidency will be a catalog of where he stands on the next issue, the next veto, the next crisis. I like his health care plan and I hate his demagoging Iran. I like his thoughts on Iraq but not his sympathy for vouchers. He'll be my president for the next four years (at least) like George Bush has been for the past eight, and I will rise to oppose him and applaud him in turn.
You can declare victory whenever you want. It is fine for me to listen to conservatives assure themselves that their moment has never passed, or that their movement has never been sullied. It's fine. Today's conservatism, after all, won't be tomorrows, just as liberalism will itself change and grow. I watch FOX News and I see them assure each other that this is "still a center-right nation," and all I can think is that they can have it. They can give themselves that laurel. Today, it appears that many liberal politicians have been elected. That's enough, for me. I think there's a time coming when opposition to gay rights is as anachronistic and disowned by both parties as opposition to civil rights is today. I think a time is coming when government ensuring a right to adequate health care is considered a given by the people of this country. I even imagine a time when this country decides that it has done with the game of messing around in other people's countries, and that it's spilled enough blood on enough foreign land, forever. But who knows? I've been wrong before.
My greatest failing as a political thinker is one I think I share with many: I instinctively look ahead to a time when politics is over, I imagine a moment when we are at an end. I act and think as though we are building to some particular horizon in the future, where things are static, and in line with my political principles. But like history, politics proceeds towards no end. Could liberalism ever "win"? Win what? The day every policy I endorse is made the law of the land will be followed by another day, and on that day the people may overthrow everything I believe in. There's no rest, in this. Whether we are a center-right country or other, no one can rest in the belief that we've reached the end of history and the end of politics. This is a diurnal fight and not one of us will leave to see its end.
I feel confident in Barack. I feel happy about my country. I feel proud for my vote. I'll permit myself a day or two of congratulations, and then it's time to remind myself that we've just elected another unapologetic militarist, that he is opposed to gay marriage, that he isn't going to do what's really necessary to combat global warming, that our financial inequalities aren't going to be seriously addressed, that he's only a politician, and a human, after all.
For my conservative friends, remember that times change, and yours will come around again. You just won't be quite the same party, or quite the same people, as you are now. I myself am not the same person I was in 2004, in ways big and small, and my ideology and party are not what they once were. But conservatism will endure, and maybe even the GOP. Lord knows, I will be around to annoy you and poke holes in your blog posts. It's the least I can do. I turn to an unlikely source for words of encouragement for conservatives, the historical archives of The New York Times, which said, in their endorsement of Woodrow Wilson (from their archive of presidential endorsements)
It is to the interest of the nation that the Republican Party should be preserved as an organized, coherent opposition. The public welfare is not preserved by the collapse of a great party, by the rise of discordant factions in place of a compact organization.
Traditionalism can't win, but conservatism can. I'll be along for the ride, if you don't mind, not in your movement or of it, but looking over your shoulder. I hope I have the strength to be as open and friendly as so many of you have been to me. Let's see what's next.