I was just a fresh, new voter in 1984, an idealistic (no, seriously) kid, convinced that Everyone Must Know That Liberals Were Right About Everything. After voting, for the first time, in my home state primary, I went off to college, convinced that the guy I wanted to be President would win. He just had to. How could anyone want four more years of that aging actor, Ronald Reagan?
And thus were my naive political dreams shattered.
Walter Mondale won just one states: his home state of Minnesota. It was then that I learned that I had grown up in a liberal cocoon, cossetted and protected from a rougher, realer world where people didn't care about the issues I did, and didn't hold to principles that I held dear. And in 1988, I got my hopes up - again - that Michael Dukakis might win over a badly prepared, poorly presented George HW Bush... only to have Reagan and his people embrace Bush in a bear hug that dragged him over the finish line as the promise of Reagan Term III (and that, kids, is a big part of why Bush lost in 1992, because he failed to live up to that promise0.
I mention all of this because when older Democrats talk about the hard won return to electoral success - including the self doubting, sweet uncertainty so many of us carried in the last few months, despite what, we now know, was a virtual certainty of reelection for the President - we're not being theoretical. The Democratic Party I still believe in and support is not the Party of my childhood, or my teen years. We're tougher, more pragmatic, less doctrinaire (and, yes, sometimes frustratingly not as liberal as I or others might like). We keep our eye on what it takes to win elections, and we work to actually win them. We don't pin our hopes and dreams to unrealistic notions of what might be or what we wish would be... we have a clearer eye on what can happen, and what can't.
(And that, kids, is why we have Obamacare.)
The point here is that somewhere between 1988 and 1994, most liberals had a Come To Jesus moment. We got seriously tired of losing. We got tired of characterization of us and our beliefs by others who had no idea who we were or what we actually believed. And, too, we let go of old notions of how government works and what voters want that didn't really work. We ended the Oppression Olympics. We let go of ideas that only Government Knows How To Solve Problems. We softened notions that we hate Big Business, or The Rich. After all, many of us were rich, or about to become rich. And we embraced the adventurous idea that we could embrace notions of change, modernity, and innovation and use technological advancements to help us do better, help people, and succeed.
This was not done easily, and there are plenty of people who, still, resist the ideas of moderation, of giving in, of leaving traditional liberal ideas behind. We don't do enough or think hard enough about poverty. We've let a housing crisis deepen and worsen. Social Justice is still often more a concept than a plan. We have a lot of internal tensions that are likely to leave a big mess as we approach 2016. Yet, and still, we won this last election (from the Presidency to the Senate to the House, picking up seats in both houses) because we are not the Democrats of 1984.
And Republicans, in many ways, are still the party of 1992.
This election, it appears, was the "1984" for many Republicans, that the actual 1984 was for me. A moment when illusions met reality. When wishful thinking met the cold light of day. In 1980, I had excuses for why Reagan won, why it was his moment, how you can fool all of the people some of the time. That, really, was what 2008 was for Republicans. John McCain was a sad joke. Even they knew it. Sarah Palin failed. "Hope and Change" was a slogan that many found hard to resist. On and on. Iran hostages, Carter was weak... believe me, I was there. We had reasons. But 1984 was shattering. We should have won, It should have been closer. How could we have been so wrong?
I've been saying for six years that Republicans are actually in a wilderness created by the disastrous Bush presidency of 2000 and 2004. But that's just the manifestation of a far longer and deeper issues that conservatives are loath to face: that you can't be the party of the super wealthy elite and voice the concerns of the white working class. That you can't adopt rigid, absolutist positions and attract a wide swath of the public. That you cannot dismiss the concerns of traditionally marginalized groups wholesale. You learn these lessons, adapt and change... or you die.
This, then is the conservative Come to Jesus moment. Will they actually, for once, admit and accept defeat? Can they see that the change that has to happen is change they have to make? Or will they, yet gain, call the voters stuoid, blame the "Magical Black Man", and offer excuse upon excuse about how they're right, and the rest of us, a growing and compelling majority of us, are bad and wrong?
I am telling you, conservative folks... I've been there. We, we older liberals, have been there. We called the voters stupid, we resisted changing anything, we called all y'all bad and wrong. And then, we had a Come To Jesus moment. And we stopped doing those things. Or, at least, we realized that those excuses are not an answer, and no sense of a solution.
You'd think, really, that Coming To Jesus would come naturally to the folks who wear religiion, and an especially muscuar Christianity, on their sleeves. But then, the falseness and wafer thin commitment to actual Christian valiuues and politically driven religious piety is one of their problems, now, isn't it? Change or die, people.... change or die.