Lost Horizons

I had a succession of meals last week with smart conservative friends, and I found them all relatively sanguine about the defeat that's almost certainly about to be inflicted on the American Right. Each of them, in different ways, express a mix of enthusiasm for the "whither conservatism" battles ahead and relief at the prospect of finally closing the books on the Bush years. This has been an exhausting Presidency for conservatives as well as liberals, and for many people on the Right the prospect of being out of power has obvious upsides: No longer will every foul-up and blunder in Washington be treated as an indictment of Conservatism with a capital C; no longer will right-wingers feel obliged to carry water, whether in small or large amounts, for a government that's widely perceived as a failure; and no longer will the Right have the dead weight of an unpopular president dragging it down and down and down. Defeat will be depressing, of course - none of my friends were Obamacons by any stretch - but it could be liberating as well.

This was how I expected to feel about a McCain defeat, too, and I've been trying to figure out why I don't - why I feel instead so grouchy and embittered (clinging to my guns and my religion, and all that), and more dispirited than liberated. I didn't have particularly high hopes for a McCain-led ticket in the first place: I never went in for the Mac-worship many journalists have practiced over the years, and part of me was dreading having to spend four years trying to explain that yes, I want a reformed conservatism, but no, I don't like the kind of reform-ish quasi-conservatism that the McCain Administration is advancing. And then there were all the other reasons to think that a GOP defeat might not be so bad: You can't win every election; it's hard for a political party to change its ways without the clarifying effects of a devastating defeat; Obama's a smart guy who'll probably make at least some policy choices I support; the election of a black President will be a great day for America; etc.

And yet here I am, sour and world-weary. Part of it, I'm sure, has to do with the pace and rhythms of blogging, which even at my extremely sedate clip is wearing after a while: I feel like I've gone round and round on the same points and controversies for an eternity already, and the prospect of going round and round for years to come ... well, let's just say I'm thinking of mainly writing about the movies for the next decade or so. And part of it probably has to do with the madness that afflicts anyone who writes a book offering advice to politicians. Every pundit labors under the delusion that if only his favored candidates would listen to him, they'd win every election and get every policy decision right - and this goes double, if my own experience is any guide, for pundits who write books that come out in election years. I've been more frustrated with the McCain campaign than with any previous ticket, I think, in part because some delusional part of my subconscious doesn't understand why they can't just let me take over their campaign and set things right. After all, I wrote a book! Come on, people!

And then, of course, there's the whole Sarah Palin business, where a politician I liked and touted from afar ended up as a hate figure to many Americans, a late-night punchline to many more, a deranging influence on a number of writers and the locus for an incredibly wearying internecine feud among right-wing pundits. (Which is to say, maybe it's a good thing the McCain campaign didn't listen to my other suggestions ...)

Ross Douthat is a former writer and editor at The Atlantic.

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