Jewish World Review Feb. 12, 2013/ 2 Adar, 5773
In defense of losing
By Paul Greenberg
http://www.JewishWorldReview.com | 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. It is the people's will!
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 forgotten. Reports go unfiled, deadlines are missed, budgets aren't submitted despite what the law "mandates," and extra-constitutional measures taken. (See the recess appointments just declared unconstitutional by an appellate court.)
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.
Think of these days as a kind of political
Defeat is already having its usual, salutary results. See the emergence of a reasonable Republican position on illegal immigration -- a shift led by
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.
It is not the Lincoln celebrating victory while the band plays on who lifts our eyes and soul, but the Whig lawyer who spent decades fighting the
Elections come and go, but principles endure. The best of causes has risen from defeat, the worst have been encouraged by their early triumphs. Napoleon was invincible, fascism was The New Order, and communism was historically inevitable -- at first. Their defeat should teach us all something about the transience of temporal power.
But we seem to have lost any appreciation for losing in this country. The notion that it is better to lose in a good cause than win in a bad one comes to seem foreign, strange, un-American -- when it is considered at all.
In his first (and highly successful) run for the presidency, one of the few bright spots in
The only thing
In the light of its defeat in 2012, the best and worst traits of American conservatism can be seen more clearly -- if we'll only look. The contrast between its permanent virtues, as articulated by Burke and de Tocqueville, and its passing populist vices, as enunciated by today's Rushbos and Don Imuses, those prophets of talk radio-and-TV, has seldom been so clear as in the light of defeat. If we'll only look. And learn.
If these be the times that try our spirit, they may also be good for our soul.
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JWR contributor Paul Greenberg, editorial page editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, has won the Pulitzer Prize for editorial writing. Send your comments by clicking here.
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