At some point, while I was watching the returns last night and listening to the pundits as they chattered about the division in the Republican party when compared to the unity of the Democrats, I began to ask myself if this whole narrative of Republican division isn’t just a bit too tidy. The division itself cannot be denied. Just look at the map of many colors and you can see it. And it’s true that no single Republican candidate has been able to generate the level of enthusiasm that Obama or, even, the Clinton Machine has produced. The standard talking point today (and also most of yesterday) from every MSM pundit I’ve heard speak on the subject, is how Democrats can’t decide because they "like both choices" and Republicans can’t decide because they don’t really like any of them.
That analysis is cute, neat, (in its way) true, and completely beside the point.
Today the question we all ought to be asking ourselves is not so much "Who is John McCain?" or "Who is Mike Huckabee?" or "Who is Mitt Romney?" Today we ought to be asking ourselves, "Who are the Republicans?" What are we all about? How are we different from the opposition? Those who see no difference or are inclined to be petulant because "their guy" didn’t get (or appears unlikely to get) the nod, need to focus--HARD--on this question. There’s a huge difference and the patchwork quilt of our electoral map last night is the first, most obvious and perhaps most important evidence of this difference.
The difference between Republicans and Democrats that our division demonstrates is the degree to which Republicans (and especially, perhaps, conservatives) are inclined to deliberate (and, yes, fight) about our principles. Hillary and Obama spar . . . but about what? Who’s the most authentic candidate for female voters? Who deserves the Hispanic vote? Who can get the biggest payoff for the labor unions or the old folks? There’s never any talk about the purposes and the ends of government. That’s all assumed. The only time you’ll hear the word "should" is when they’re leveling some insult at a Neanderthal Republican who is not yet on board with their program. To be a Democrat today is to acknowledge that you believe in the "End of Political Thought"--or, to be less generous, that you don’t believe in thought at all. The only thought is that given to the means to achieve pre-determined ends. That’s why their politics is almost always more wonkish and less interesting and fascinating only when it is more Machiavellian and internal.
Today Republicans should hold their heads up high. We have been engaged in a long and serious conversation with each other. We have acted like Americans--which is to say free and thinking human beings. We have deliberated and now--it appears--we are closer to a choice. All of us are not going to be happy with the choice and no one ought to be forced to accept a choice he does not like. But it is within the power of those who argued on behalf of the choice now before us to persuade the reluctant. McCain tried hard to be gracious in his victory last night. He should continue this effort and--considering only the things that unite us--begin to set his sights on the real opposition. The warrior candidate needs to understand that the terms of the battle have now shifted. He will have to move to a different front and save his fighting for there. Within his own ranks he needs to work more on persuasion--and, perhaps after a bit of penance--to give us a rousing Agincourt speech. We can be happy warriors together. But if McCain wants to keep us happy he must respect our independent spirits and our penchant for thoughtful disagreement.