WASHINGTON — What a wonderful morn! Campaign ’08 is a corpse. Step gently around it. Offer a gentle wave of the hand to those poor wretches over in the corner looking forlorn and lost. Those are the political junkies. They have awakened every day for almost two years eager for the electioneering fray. First, there were the primaries, where Hillary was "inevitable" and Rudy the likely Republican candidate. Then they heaved and sweated for Sen. Barack Obama or Sen. John McCain. Now the election is over, and they are in withdrawal.
Yet most of the rest of us have reason to be relieved and frankly a bit proud of our country. Yes, the campaign was a blare of competing rhetorical sophistications. It was rare for either candidate to utter an applause line that did not begin with a deceit or end with one. Sen. Obama’s yawp about giving 95 percent of us a tax cut is a comely example; after all, some 40 percent of his targeted audience pays no income tax. And Sen. McCain’s rant against Wall Street for the financial crisis is another. The crisis began with those subprime mortgages from Fannie and Freddie and was exacerbated by cheap money and recklessly low interest rates from the Department of the Treasury and from the Fed.
Most of the rest of us can be proud of how this election has concluded. The United States has elected an African-American to the presidency two generations after Jim Crow. There was no violence and very little playing of the race card. Sen. Obama ran a deft campaign, and his Chicago advisers created a formidable machine (pardon the term). He is from Chicago, and so am I. We know what a Chicago machine has been, and frankly I have not been reassured when I have heard him sing that he is running against "30 years of broken politics in Washington." Does he mean he is bringing in "fixed politics"? We from Chicago know what "fixed politics" has meant in Chicago, and there the fix has been in for more than 30 years.
Yet beyond my little play on words, I, a Reagan conservative through and through, join with so many of my fellow Americans in taking pride in this election. Old Europe has disdained this country for years as racially prejudiced, though for years some of our most beloved popular figures have been African-Americans. At this point, we have had black generals in our military, black members of our presidential cabinets, black Supreme Court justices, black political leaders throughout the states, and black CEOs all over the lot. No European nation has shown such tolerance of color, ethnic origins, or religious and political disagreement. Spare us your canards about racial prejudice in the Great Republic, and may I remind our European critics that 2009, the year in which Sen. Obama will be inaugurated to the presidency, is the 200th anniversary of the birth of Abraham Lincoln, the Great Emancipator. Aside from the political junkies, there is another tiny coterie of gloomy souls this week: the Clintonistas. Doubtless the gloomiest among them is the downcast former Boy President. He is actually, according to my sources, quite angry. With the election of Sen. Obama, Bill Clinton’s days of White House revelry are finito. He has wanted to get back in the White House for years. Relatively unreported, but nonetheless true, he wanted his wife to run in 2004. We saw how passionately he campaigned for her in 2008. Yet a return of the Clintons was never to be. As I said as early as the spring of 2007, in "The Clinton Crack-Up" (and in an interview with Brian Lamb on C-SPAN), the "inevitable" Hillary was "going to have real problems getting the nomination." She faced a serious challenge from a younger generation of Democrats, who found their candidate in the junior senator from Illinois.
As I also reported, her husband is a dreadful campaigner for anyone but himself. When she turned to him in the primaries, she apparently knew nothing of his limitations. In 2004, of the 14 candidates he campaigned for, 12 lost. In the closing days of this campaign, when the former president campaigned for Sen. Obama, we saw why he is so dreadful in campaigning for others. To Sen. Obama’s visible chagrin, Bill talked about himself first and then his White House advisers. When he finally referred to the 2008 Democratic candidate sitting nearby, he only diminished him. Now Bill is a has-been, and the historians are going to note his failed presidency.
In the months ahead, we are going to be hearing that the Reagan conservatives are has-beens, too. Well, we shall see. Critics have been writing obituaries for the conservative movement since 1964. I recall their pessimistic reports in 1987 with great clarity. That was when the Reagan Revolution supposedly was finished off by Iran-Contra and a stock market decline. In the years ahead, the principles of Reagan conservatism came to be adopted even by Democrats. The reason is clear: Those principles protect personal liberty, encourage prosperity, and protect American national security.
In the months ahead, the conservative movement will regroup. It will refine its principles for the present needs of the nation: growth, personal liberty, and national security. It will find the next generation of conservative political leaders. If President Obama really makes good on his promise to return to the New Deal of the 1930s and the Great Society of the 1960s, a revitalized conservative movement will be back on top sooner than one might expect. Recall, if you will, that this happened two years after the Clintons brought "change" to Washington in 1992.