A rather long post, following many post election thoughts, and to console my political son who was the second in command for someone who lost her re-election bid by 58 votes.
Although we are less and less Christian as a people, many of us even now recognize and enjoy the tradition that speaks of light after the dark, something we all understand in the northern hemisphere and also a metaphor for hope after despair which is what Isaiah meant after all.
American elections always come within sight of Christmas season, so to my fellow liberals and progressives and Democrats let us recall the words of Isaiah. Yes, there is reason for weeping and gnashing of teeth, and lamentation is understandable but, and let me repeat that word with emphasis – BUT – dismay serves the victor a second victory. Here, then, are some reasons for hope and courage, which are essential especially now.
1. America is a conservative nation, even among liberals. (“I thought you said reasons for hope?”) Yes, this is a reason for hope. By conservative I mean skeptical about government. One hundred fifty years ago Gideon Tucker wrote, “No man's life, liberty or property are safe while the Legislature is in session," sometimes attributed to Mark Twain as well, who may have appropriated it somewhere along the line. Suspicion of government is very old among us, well entrenched and even liberals share this notion in some areas. Who of us is not outraged about mass incarceration, police misconduct, civil forfeiture, the Patriot Act? A healthy distrust of power is part of the liberal view as well. In other words, we are not as divided as we may feel.
2. Because we are conservative – skeptical – by nature, people will preserve the status quo long after it has been harmful to them. It is a form of preferring the devil you know, as the saying puts it. I think Ambrose Bierce’s famous definition of conservatives and liberals expresses the heart of the sentiment, “Conservative, n: A statesman who is enamored of existing evils, as distinguished from the Liberal who wishes to replace them with others.”
3. This fact is as old as the country itself. “And accordingly, as all experience hath shown,” writes the Declaration of Independence, “mankind (sic) are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to change the forms to which they are accustomed.” We liberals may decry the folly of those who vote ‘against their own interests,’ but it is an old and well-established fact of social behavior. We should not be surprised when it happens, and rather expect it. As Winston Churchill wryly observed, “You can always count on Americans to do the right thing - after they've tried everything else.” And he was a conservative!
4. Therefore, liberal ideas will only be adopted when all else has failed. As a consequence, we should expect to be the minority most of the time. Which clearly means WE SHALL LOSE MORE ELECTIONS THAN WE WIN.
5. But we must not wait until disaster calls us – like firefighters – to the flaming house of democracy. That would be derelict. Though we may not be called upon until the last moment, we may not be absent in the meantime. But what should we do in that meantime, how shall we be ready when the nation needs us?
6. Even the conservative hopes for what the liberal hopes. What is that? “Liberty and Justice for All.” Where liberals have failed is in speaking to that hope in everyone. We have fallen prey to the same devil conservatism serves, fear. Conservatism thrives on fear as this is its basis. Some fears are appropriate, unchecked government power being one. But liberalism is premised on hope, and all people need hope, the light in the darkness, even conservatives; but liberals have lost that voice insofar as it speaks to the nation and not just themselves.
7. That is why dismay is conservatism’s second victory, for by feeling defeated we give up our soul, which is hope. The emotion is legitimate for the moment, as all defeats are hard. It is equally hard not to analyze why we were defeated, forgetting that victory for us is always exceptional and never the norm.
8. Our task is to ask not what went wrong with our strategy and organization, but how we can better speak to the hope. Technique helps win some elections, but ‘without a vision the people perish,’ and it is the liberal vision that people need. Thus the next step is not asking how to get people to vote but making people hungry to vote. We have two years. Here is how.
9. Reclaim our gift as those who believe the future of America is before us (hope) not behind us (fear). We cannot win elections or hearts by trying to compete over whose fears are more dire, or by using its cousin, anger. Fear and anger are the emotional basis of conservatism, after all.
10. Express liberal hope in words every American knows and reveres, ‘liberty and justice for all,’ ‘we the people,’ ‘government of the people, by the people, for the people,’ ‘I have a dream,’ and so on. Our greatest moments as a nation have been moments when liberals were in power.
11. Let go of specific policies and platforms, the techniques of government, and talk only of the people and the nation. Liberalism is larger than government, but right now it has been cornered as mere belief in big government. Let’s then lose the language of government with its programs (which sound like money spent) and laws (which sound like regulations and limits) and speak instead of democracy and liberty, of justice and fairness, of community and responsibility, of all the things everyone values. These are liberal hopes, but not enough people know they are.
12. Finally, rejoice in the victory of our fellow conservative Americans. They are our neighbors and friends and as wrong as we think they may be, we are as likely to wrong as well. And cheer them on because liberal hope extends to all Americans, not just those who think like us. Let’s disappoint those who think us defeated and outcast by drawing the circle of our hope around them as well.