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The Day After

9:04 AM, Nov 7, 2012 • By WILLIAM KRISTOL
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“Vindication means that this contest has been resolved. The understanding of relevant contemporary history — the so-called dominant narrative — has been decided in favor of 2008. A modest Obama victory negates the claim of 2010. Yes, the Republicans still have their majority in the House, but the Democrats, if not the president himself, will say that the 2010 elections were nothing more than a bunch of idiot Tea Partiers getting in the way of the forward movement of history. Vindication will also allow a broader and bolder articulation of the president’s foundational concepts. Obama’s intellectual supporters often played hide and seek during his first term, backing some very bold ideas akin to ‘we built it,’ only to retreat in the face of public opposition to claim that, aw shucks, Obama is nothing more than a country pragmatist. Vindication will allow the president to state more openly his social democratic principles, bringing about the intellectual transformation of American politics that he has sought.

“Political campaigns are primarily about devising strategies to win elections. But campaigns have another dimension: They affect the general standing or acceptability of a candidate in the eyes of the American people. Some campaigns add to, or at least do not detract from, a candidate’s general standing. Even members of the losing party, though disappointed, recognize something positive about the victor. Other campaigns burn up a candidate’s standing and spend his moral capital. Obama’s campaign of 2008 was of the positive kind, while his campaign this year, based on personal assaults on his opponent and divisive appeals, has drawn down his stature. The audacity of hope has given way to the defense of Big Bird.

“Yet his followers under the scenario of Vindication will find something new in him to admire. Liberals have a moralistic side, waxing poetic about feelings of goodness coursing through them, but they also admire the cool calculator and the tough street fighter. While costing the president among Americans generally, victory will bring him encomiums. There will surely be a new biography, published in 2013, entitled Obama: The Messiah and the Fox.

“The Republicans’ position under this scenario is not a pretty one. In terms of institutional power, Republicans will have lost nothing and may even have gained some in the Senate. Yet six months ago Republicans were supposed to have carried the Senate, so a small gain looks more like a loss. Numbers aside, how will they think of themselves? Yes, Republicans can take solace in their strength in many states and in their stable of impressive young leaders. But at the national level, in the short term, it is hard to imagine how they will avoid splitting apart. Will Republicans stop talking about repealing Obamacare? Many will, while others will carry on and blame defeat on Mitt Romney as yet another example of a moderate who lost for a lack of true conviction. Will Republicans resist completely the president’s deficit reduction plan, including a tax increase on the wealthy? Some will stay the course, but others will conclude they must give way. One thing is certain about the scenario of Vindication. If there is one person no one would want to be, it is John Boehner.”

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