The Republic of T.

Black. Gay. Father. Vegetarian. Buddhist. Liberal.

Never Failing, Always Failed

Sometimes the most pointed — or preposterous — comes from unexpected sources. This time, it’s The Onion providing the former and the Wall Street Journal serving up the latter.

The best satire comes wrapped around a grain of discomforting truth. Daniel De Groot unwrapped one in a headline from The Onion that should give Democrats something to think about. Read his post for more on that.

The jaw-dropper, though, comes from the Wall Street Journal, (hat-tip to Steve Benen at Political Animal) where they’ve apparently learned well (or not so well) something Rick pointed out earler: Conservatism never fails; it is only failed.

A big part of how I understand the American right—it’s lurking behind most of what I write, though I rarely discuss it explicitly—is the concept of innocence. Most conservatives I’ve met and corresponded with can be most usefully taxonomized, not according to whether they’re “theocons” or “neocons” or economic conservatives or whatever else, but by the particular routines by which they wash themselves in the blood of the lamb—in other words, how they pronounce themselves and those they class themselves with to be without sin: conservatism never fails, it is only failed. The conservative African American thinker Shelby Steele has borrowed a concept from Soren Kierkegaard to describe what he sees as black Americans’ tendency to bad-faith excuses that exempt themselves for any possibility of owning their own failures: “seeing for innocence.” Myself, I’ve found this an indispensable concept for understanding how contemporary conservatives assess the past, present, and future of their movement. Conservatives are really crappy at personal responsibility.

That explains the admonishment from WSJ columnist Jeffrey Scott Shapiro: President Bush has not failed; we have failed him.

The treatment President Bush has received from this country is nothing less than a disgrace. The attacks launched against him have been cruel and slanderous, proving to the world what little character and resolve we have. The president is not to blame for all these problems. He never lost faith in America or her people, and has tried his hardest to continue leading our nation during a very difficult time.

Our failure to stand by the one person who continued to stand by us has not gone unnoticed by our enemies. It has shown to the world how disloyal we can be when our president needed loyalty — a shameful display of arrogance and weakness that will haunt this nation long after Mr. Bush has left the White House.

I guess that we shouldn’t have been dancing in the streets on Tuesday night.

The last time Americans danced and cheered in the streets was in 1945, when the nation finally defeated its enemies in the Second World War. I have no memories of those exuberant days. But I’m an historian and I’ve seen plenty of pictures and read many descriptions of the joy and happiness that swept over the country.

Obama’s stunning victory is the first time in 63 years that Americans once again danced and cheered in the street. Here on the Left Coast, thousands of Berkeley students danced in the city, wildly cheering his victory. In Oakland’s Jack London Square and in San Francisco’s Castro District, tens of thousands more gathered for joyous street parties, dancing in the street. It was a bittersweet victory because of the success of those who sought to ban same-sex marriage. That day, too, will come. Of this I’m sure.

Elsewhere, people also danced in the streets. In Chicago, a friend describes the thousands of young people who poured out of trains to join the tens of thousands already celebrating in Grant Park. In Crown Heights, Brooklyn, the largely African American and Caribbean population celebrated in the streets, dancing and setting off fireworks.

All across America, in these blue enclaves, celebration and joy was in the air. The morning after the election, I received emails from friends all over the world who described how the election would transform not just the United States, but the rest of the world. On the Berkeley campus, colleagues, as well as strangers, hugged each other. Smiles sprouted on students’ faces. It was as though everyone were awakening from an eight year low-grade depression.

I guess we shouldn’t have burst into a collective expression of joy over a new beginning, and — at long last — the beginning of the end.

The nation’s capital came alive after 11 PM on election eve, as thousands poured into the streets to celebrate a victory that everyone was calling historic. Car horns blaring, whooping and shouting, high fives all around, multi-racial crowds celebrating joyously. Historic it is, most obviously in the election of an African-American president, in a country where millions of black people could not even vote when the new president-elect was born. The rapper Jay-Z elegantly expressed the Obama campaign’s connection to the long struggle for equality, along with the enthusiasm that it generated: “Rosa Parks sat so that Martin Luther King could walk. Martin Luther King walked so that Obama could run. Obama’s running so that we all can fly.”

But there is another sense in which this election will likely turn out to be historic. For nearly four decades, this country has been moving to the right.

…Now that long journey into darkness has finally come to an end.

How thoughtless and dangerous to celebrate the end of an administration and an era dominated by a political philosophy that has:

And that’s just what I could come up with in five minutes of searching my own memory banks, without even Iraq or Afghanistan.

Dancing in the streets at the prospect that all of the above might be coming to an end? That the light we can finally see at the end of the tunnel might be a way out, instead of an oncoming train?

How could we, when none of this would have happened if only we’d clapped hard enough?

Shapiro’s right. Nevermind our enemies. What would our friends think? What would the world think?

Oh, Wait. They probably didn’t notice because they were celebrating too.

History will have the final verdict, and it may admonish us too? But at least one group of historians has described the Bush presidency as “battered, incompetent” and “unlucky.”

With record low approval ratings and intense criticism for his handling of the Iraq war, Hurricane Katrina and the economy, the word most used to label George W. Bush’s presidency will be “incompetent,” historians say.

“Right now there is not a lot of good will among historians. Most see him as a combination of many negative factors,” said Julian Zelizer, a professor of history and public affairs at Princeton University’s Woodrow Wilson School.

“He is seen as incompetent in terms of how he handled domestic and foreign policy. He is seen as pushing for an agenda to the right of the nation and doing so through executive power that ignored the popular will,” he added.

But like so many presidents before him, Bush’s reputation could change with time.

Maybe. But right now, incompetent seems an appropriate label for the Bush presidency; one that has left many feeling battered an unlucky.

Can anyone blame us — or the rest of the world — for being glad it’s over, and finally hopeful that better days are ahead?

I guess so.


  1. Personal responsibility, to a conservative, is always something that happens to someone else.

  2. T –

    Well said! And we should be dancing in the streets!

    The only “misunderstanding” Americans had with Bush is the fact he is a liar, cheat and has been most talented at bankrupting all the companies his daddy gave him, including the United States. What did we expect when we elected (and that’s questionable, isn’t it?) a man who did not even know Social Security was a federal program when in debate for the Presidency?

    We choose our landscapers more carefully.