Refusing to take Ronald Reagan's famous advice--don't just do something, stand there--conservative machers are all in a swivet, reading the leaves of the 2008 verdict, plotting to pick off this or that set of voters, opining on what it all means. Actually, just standing there seems like a pretty good option, at least for the moment, and perhaps for the next few weeks and months. Plans made right now may turn out to be useless. There are too many things we don't know.
We don't know yet what happened on Tuesday, and what kind of win it will be: a pivotal one, like 1932 and 1980; or a transient success--1964, 1976, 1988, 2004--that at the moment appeared monumental, but four years later had turned out not to be. How much of the glow now surrounding the Democrats is due to themselves, and how much to the nature of Barack Obama, who has a personality that comes along twice in a century, and how long will this last? Which Obama will turn up to govern, the man of moderate temperament, or the functional liberal, whose record is way left of center? When the phone rings for real at three in the morning, who will pick it up: the oh-so-cool cat who was so self-possessed while campaigning, or the neophyte who, outside of campaigning, has never faced a real test in his life? How big will the recession be, and will he prolong it? Will he gain or lose ground in the war on terror? Will we have a new terror attack? If he governs well, he will win again in the next go round, and nothing done now will change it; if he blows a big test on the world stage, then nothing will save him. No grand schemes hatched now will change that.
"Political parties that are relevant take their cue from what is happening," writes Jennifer Rubin, correctly. The issues that arise--and the reactions and the mistakes of the party in power--create the openings for the outs to form new coalitions of the newly disaffected, along the basic, rough lines of their ideologies, as they adapt them to different events. Reagan had a long grounding in conservative thought, but it was the failures of Carter, the Iran hostage crisis, and a decadent liberalism that gave him his opening, which otherwise might never have come. The Contract-With-America Gingrich insurgents had a firm base in theory, but HillaryCare and Clinton's early mistakes gave them their big opportunity. In the immediate aftermath of the Carter and Clinton elections, these things were never foreseen.
Is it not perhaps a little unseemly for pundits and activists, who talk mainly to themselves and each other, have no accountability, no responsibility, and work under pressures no harder than deadlines, to complain endlessly about their betrayals at the hands of politicians and presidents, who, while responsible for the fate of the country, have the temerity to stray from their exquisitely crafted ideas? History is seldom made by pundits and machers who kvetch in tranquility. It is made by politicians who muck about in the arena, seizing their chances as fate presents them, in a climate of unforeseen happenings. For most of 2001, it was assumed that George W. Bush would have a presidency concerned with small acts of domestic compassion. Then came 9/11. In 2004, people talked of an entrenched and permanent conservative dominance. Then came Katrina and the bombing of the shrine in Samarra. A year ago it was believed Iraq would dominate the campaign conversation. Then came Fannie Mae. Only two months ago, McCain was tied or was leading, the Dow was over 10,000, and no one could guess at the pounding that was to sink both.
Many uncertainties lie between now and 2010 elections. Do not look to fathom them ahead of time.
Noemie Emery is a contributing editor to THE WEEKLY STANDARD.