Support First Things by turning your adblocker off or by making a  donation. Thanks!

I wore black today. Black suit, black tie, and a black shroud over the Romney-Ryan sign in my yard. No, I do not think, contrary to countless heartfelt comments one sees on the conservative blogs today, that the republic died today.

But make no mistake: something did die today.

Obama voters, you need to understand this. You need to look into my eyes, into the eyes of your fellow Americans who voted for Romney, and see that something has changed. That this victory of yours is . . . somehow a dismal one. Something now changes between us.

It’s different this time.

You had four long years to take the measure of this man. Measured by elementary economic yardsticks, his administration has been a clear failure. And for all who have been willing to honestly look, his character has been revealed to be one of arrogance, incompetence, divisiveness, and serial mendacity. Dare I remind us of the fact, by turns preposterous and appalling, that he kept Joe Biden on as his Vice-President? And, you still voted for him and Joe, even in a situation where the Democratic Party did not stand to lose many decisive policy points, since there was no way it could get below a filibuster-sustaining number in the Senate.

“It makes me wonder who my fellow citizens are,” said Marianne Doherty in this news story . You’re going to be hearing different versions of that quote, over and over from your fellow citizens. Your brothers, sisters, family members, warriors, protectors, doctors, and even some of your teachers.

We were told, and we told ourselves, that some unspecified number of you were “moderates.”

Do you see what’s in our eyes?


Many analysts will write the kinds of things they always do after an election. I see that Michael Barone, for example, just posted an essay explaining why he predicted things so incorrectly . Many details there to digest and consider. Others will consider the various mistakes made by the Romney camp, and the smart moves by the Obama one. Libertarian-learners will once again declare that social conservatives sunk Republican chances, and vice-versa. The usual debate about Latino-outreach and immigration policy will occur. All of that is necessary dialogue, and certain details will emerge as the more important ones that plausibly suggest how 2 percentage points might have gone the other way. Very good. By all means, read and reflect. And let the debates about the future of conservatism and the Republican party begin.

But don’t lose sight of the fact that it’s different this time.

Now Romney voters, let me say a few words to you.  Too many of you are only now beginning to see that for many months you have lived in a kind of informational and analytical bubble, shaped by conservative intellectual leaders who refused to fully and fairly process what the poll data was suggesting.

(Again, I must point out that here at Postmodern Conservative our Peter Lawler and Pete Spiliakos manfully resisted the pressure, which at times came from yours truly, to get drawn into that bubble. I thank them for keeping me a bit more in touch with the grim reality—even though I’ve been deeply depressed about the closeness of the race since around June.)


And so many of you are genuinely shocked and stunned by the outcome.  Your despair, and perhaps your anger at your fellow citizens, is thus all the more dramatic. You might say something like one Mr. Nelson, a commenter at Powerline said today: “This country will be so fundamentally changed from the results of this election that it will never be anything close to what it used to be.”  One comment among tens of thousands like it.

The snipers will loudly argue that your anger and despair is primarily a function of being deluded by your leaders and your media, of having your bubble popped. Oh, they will enjoy themselves immensely, and think they are doing heavy intellectual work, by offering competing theories about the “syndrome” they think you got caught in. And some of them will seek to dismiss any future political passion you display as simply a function of that.

(Perhaps harder to take still will be those who, in a Lennon-esque or Bible-commanded cause of reconciliation as they understand it, in all sincerity ask you to put your anger aside now for the good of the nation. Be patient with these sincere ones, for they will not initially understand that something is different this time.)

But Romney voter, after all the necessary criticism of the conservative bubble regarding poll-analysis has been made, the truth is this:  the most fundamental reason you remained in that bubble was your belief in your fellow citizens, in the general decency and common sense of the American public. Obama was so obviously bad, that you couldn’t believe that enough of your fellow citizens wouldn’t see it and act upon it. That touching Reaganite faith in America. That duty of fostering fraternal love for your fellow citizens, extended into a kind of respect. The snipers will say you are an extremist, dangerously delusional, subject to all sorts of “syndromes” and scandalously hesitant to enter into the rites of reconciliation. But you know, and those who really look into your eyes will know it too:  your bubble was built upon love.

And now, it is popped.

The duties of love become more rigorous. Gentleness now enters the room with a grim face and an urgent tone.

My fellow citizens who voted for Obama, know this: you have betrayed us, hurt us deeply. I say it especially to those of you over 25.  You have done a grave wrong. You have not investigated, not hesitated, not considered the plain meaning of the many damnations hurled by your allies towards us over the years.

Quite a few of you have declined to take the time and effort to read serious conservative arguments, to expose yourself to conservative interpretations of the news on a regular basis, and you have little or no shame about this, despite what has long been known about our media environment. But it is your duty. One of things that makes you deserving of the right to vote.

We know it offends, but this is what we believe. We simply have to say it to you. Especially now. We look at the disaster the election of this man represents, the casual abdication of the basic citizenship duty to assess success or failure, bad character or good, math or bankruptcy, and we cannot honestly say that this loss is like 1932, 1936, 1940, 1944, 1948, 1960, 1964, 1976, 1992, 1996, or 2008. All of those losses, in many of which there was much more at stake policy-wise, remained within the realm of understanding our fellow citizens’ reasoning. Not this one.

Those of you who know me, know my basic moderation. You know I wasn’t always a conservative, that I voted for Dukakis, for Clinton twice, and for Gore. You know that like Obama, I attended meetings of the Democratic Socialists of America in the 1980s. You know that either as a student or a teacher, my conduct in seminars and classes has consistently sought to bring out the strong sides of every serious argument brought to the table. You know that in daily life, I am in fact reticent about bringing politics into things, and that I enjoy laughing, smiling, good art, good food, and good manners, and with folks from various political, religious, and philosophic viewpoints.

And you might know that my career has been in large part about taking the study of politics pretty seriously—that I have claims to expertise in America’s political history and her Constitution, and that I have “sat at the feet of” and done hard-sweat study of Plato, Aristotle, Livy, Machiavelli, Shakespeare, Calvin, Locke, Rousseau, Marx, Tocqueville, John Rawls, Michael Harrington, Taylor Branch, Florian von Donnersmarck, and so on.

So if you respect moderation, manners, and education, hear me! Do not quibble, do not latch onto to any one mistake or poorly-chosen phrase above. Understand that the likes of me do not say things like this unless I think the situation really is becoming grave.

Perhaps in another post I will labor to spell out why I judge that the Obama-voters this time have made such an irresponsible choice, and no doubt in the comments we will talk about the burdens of self-analysis all of this puts upon conservatives, but the point of this one is to shock, to dismay, to tear aside the veil of the normalcy and standard modes of analysis that we are so inclined to cling to.

It’s different this time.

UPDATE: More thoughts in this line from the great Jay Nordlinger of National Review. His title, “Bitterfest 2012” sure is catchy, but I would insist that SOBERFEST catches the reality better.

Dear Reader,

We launched the First Things 2023 Year-End Campaign to keep articles like the one you just read free of charge to everyone.

Measured in dollars and cents, this doesn't make sense. But consider who is able to read First Things: pastors and priests, college students and professors, young professionals and families. Last year, we had more than three million unique readers on

Informing and inspiring these people is why First Things doesn't only think in terms of dollars and cents. And it's why we urgently need your year-end support.

Will you give today?

Make My Gift
More on: America, Love, Election

Comments are visible to subscribers only. Log in or subscribe to join the conversation.



Filter First Thoughts Posts

Related Articles