Our front page last night featured two ideas that we're probably going to hear a lot about in the coming months. The first, in a Kevin Leininger column, is the notion that Barack Obama's election to the presidency will take race off the national table:
. . . Barack Obama's victory signaled the long-overdue demise of the type of divisive racial politics Jackson, Al Sharpton and others have perfected over the past several decades - the kind built on the premise that America is a hopelessly racist country that refuses to give minorities a chance to succeed.
[. . .]
Does America really need to grant preferences to members of supposedly disadvantaged groups when a black man has just won the nation's highest office the old-fashioned way: by earning it, fair and square?
The second, in an interview with Rep. Mark Souder, is the belief that Republicans and conservatives are going to be in for a rough time:
If Republicans are to continue to mean anything, they have to present a clear, conservative alternative to moderate or liberal policy approaches. That means taking strong stands - raising a “voice of responsible opposition,” as Souder puts it - on issues ranging from taxes to national security to taxation.
But if the party veers so far right that turns into an ineffectual echo chamber of conservative arguments, it's probably going to become still more marginalized.
Well, allow me to be contrarian for a moment (shocking, I know).
On race, it's true that Obama's election is a milestone. It'll be some time before we figure out all it means, if we ever do, but I don't think it's going to miraculously untangle the knots we've made of race in this country. We're still going to have people who think we've completely solved our racial problems and those who see racism in every word and gesture. We're still going to have racists of all colors and those who will exploit race for their own reasons. I think the most we can hope for is that Obama helps us change the nature of the conversation. As for the kind of affirmative action Kevin is talking about, it's true that there is no logical reason for it, but then there never was. Those who advocate it must be in a perpetual state of cognitive dissonance. Making decisions on the basis of race is wrong, wrong, wrong, except when we want to do it, in which case it's right. There's no moral high ground at all there.
On politics, Souder is right that conservatives and Republicans are going to have a tough time in Congress. But there is also opportunity, as there always is for the group on the outs in the ebb and flow of politics, to refocus and re-energize. It can be done well (as in the Goldwater defeat leading to the Reagan revolution) or poorly, as in the Gingrich revolution that fell apart when Republicans discovered it was fun to spend as much of other's people's money as the Democrats did. Conservative and libertarian ideas aren't dead; they've just been discredited, in large part because of the anti-conservative and -libertarian instincts of the Republican who has occupied the White House for eight years. Democrats will now control everything, so they can't blame Republicans for anything. That should give the GOP at least two years and maybe four to regroup without distractions. If they latch on to a national star, perhaps Sarah Palin, they can probably rescue the social conservatives. The libertarians will be the tougher part of the coalition to get back -- they've been leaving in droves.