President Bush has described the election of his successor as a "triumph of the American story," the fulfillment of Martin Luther King Jr.'s dream for America. Mr. Bush is right. Conservatives otherwise depressed about the outcome Tuesday should be pleased with this.
Barack Obama's victory was decisive. He won by a landslide in the Electoral College, and received a higher percentage of the popular vote (53 percent) than any Democrat since Lyndon Johnson in 1964.
As the president-elect was giving his gracious victory speech, I couldn't help thinking about the 1967 movie "Guess Who's Coming to Dinner?" in which an impeccably liberal San Francisco couple is discomfited when their daughter brings home her fiance, a handsome, well-mannered, internationally recognized doctor, who is black. We've come a long way since then.
There is no such thing as a good loss. But if Republicans were destined to lose, the size of the Obama victory is less harmful than a closer outcome might have been.
If the election had been a nail-biter like 2000 was, Republicans could point to a dozen things Sen. John McCain could have done differently that might have produced a different result.
I give the McCain campaign a C- at best. It often seemed a pudding without a theme. On the paramount issue, Mr. McCain didn't have a message that resonated until Joe the Plumber found one for him. And the way the McCain campaign mishandled its prize asset Gov. Sarah Palin was appalling.
But the size of Mr. Obama's margin in the Electoral College suggests that even if Mr. McCain had run a perfect campaign, he still would have lost. When you add together the stock market meltdown, the toxic public-opinion ratings of Mr. Bush, Mr. Obama's huge financial advantage and the blatant media cheerleading for him, the wonder is that the popular vote was as close as it was.
There apparently was more fraud in this election than in any other in the recent past. But because Mr. Obama's margins in key states were large, the votes of the ineligible and the dead didn't affect the outcome. Republicans weren't robbed. They were beaten, fair and square.
Because Republicans cannot reasonably blame defeat on tactical mistakes by the McCain campaign or on cheating by the other guys, they'll have to do the soul-searching without which they cannot hope to return to power. And they need to do this without finger-pointing and name-calling.
I believe Republicans lost their way when they got too comfortable with earmarks and the ways of Washington. They can find their bearings only with a return to fundamental conservative principles.
But there are among conservatives, as among liberals, those who believe in addition by subtraction. They want to purge all who do not share their views. Despite Mr. Obama's victory, I think America remains a center-right country. But the right cannot prevail if it alienates the center.
The president-elect seems to think we're a center-right country, too. In his victory speech, with a humility remarkable both for him and for the occasion, he reached out to those who had opposed him.
Barack Obama remains an enigma. Is he the fairly moderate, conciliatory guy he sounded like Tuesday night? Or is he the very left-wing guy he was before the campaign began?
I hope he's the former, but fear he's the latter. We'll find out soon enough.
I sincerely hope Barack Obama will be a successful president, even though this could mean a long time in the wilderness for Republicans, because country is more important than ideology or party.
The first step on the road out of the wilderness is for conservatives to be as civil and gracious in defeat as Mr. Obama was in victory. He's our president, too, and a right-wing version of Bush Derangement Syndrome the affliction of liberals who hated Mr. Bush so much they lost their senses is a sure ticket to permanent minority status.
I suspect there will be many policies in an Obama administration that I'll oppose. But I'll do so civilly. In the meantime, I'll give him the benefit of the doubt.