On November 6, the people of the United States rejected President Barack Obama. And re-elected him to a second term in office.
Though Obama failed to win a majority in the popular vote–and may even have lost the popular vote outright–he won enough votes in the Electoral College to claim victory. The same constitutional peculiarity that brought George W. Bush into office in 2000 may have returned Obama to the White House.
The voters also re-affirmed the results of the historic Tea Party election of 2010, returning Republicans to power in the House of Representatives. And yet the voters also retained Democrats in control of the Senate, preserving the results of the anti-war wave election of 2006.
The U.S. Congress is now divided between two parties whose members were elected on platforms of protest, each determined to stop the other from pursuing its policies.
In the days that follow, great efforts will be spent on explaining the results as consequences of many factors, big and small.
Perhaps Obama would have lost if not for Hurricane Sandy. Perhaps Romney would have won if he had fought harder over Benghazi or pushed back against personal attacks. Perhaps the GOP is out of touch with the country’s changing mores and demographics. Perhaps Democrats have not yet reckoned with fiscal reality.
Both sides lost. The American people, in effect, handed a vote of no confidence to Washington.
But it is true that Republicans, and conservatives more generally, lost more than Democrats. The presidency is more powerful than ever, and Obama will likely have the opportunity to nominate at least one additional Supreme Court justice, tipping the ideological balance of the Court in a profoundly liberal, statist direction for the next generation.
Yet the United States is still a center-right country, as conservatives often argue–a nation that prefers individual freedom and embraces traditional values, a unique paradox that is the essence of our exceptionalism and the secret of our success. Within that center-right consensus, there are pockets of center-left governance, most of which are failing, having accepted the false comfort of big government as a palliative for economic stagnation.
Beyond the politics of the moment, the nation now confronts the grave danger that the failing model of the left will become deeply and irreversibly entrenched in the nation’s institutional structure.
Obamacare–as unpopular now as it ever was–will be the law of the land. The nation’s armed forces will be weakened and its global stature humbled. The debt will become a problem that surpasses any of the petty solutions offered to contain it.
Americans missed an opportunity to change course. And now the years ahead will be bitter and difficult. Our politics will be a zero-sum game, where benefits for some mean cuts to others, and a president who promised unity will inaugurate a new era of division.
But it need not be an era without hope. The same principles that built this Republic can save it again. Indeed, those timeless principles are the only solution, the only vision.
Our fault, as a nation, was to forget the lessons of our own success. Having triumphed in a global, decades-long struggle against collectivism and totalitarianism, we refused to celebrate that victory, failing for twenty years to teach its lessons to the next generation.
And as Andrew Breitbart often reminded us, the most important battles must be cultural ones, because culture and media inevitably shape the political choices we make together.
That war must begin anew. And it begins now.
It is not simply a battle over whether the establishment or the Tea Party leads the Republican opposition. It is not just a search for the next presidential contender. And it is bigger than the ongoing fight against the mainstream media–a weakened but still formidable enemy.
The war is a fight for the hearts, minds, and souls of the American people–waged every day, in culture as in politics.
In 2000, the left reacted to its peculiar loss by venting its rage against the Constitution, vowing to eliminate the Electoral College. It never did so, but never abandoned its broader ambition fundamentally to transform the nation’s constitutional foundation.
Our reaction must be the opposite: to re-affirm our commitment to the Constitution, though it means losing this battle, and to find the courage for the long struggle that lies ahead.