In other words, nothing has changed. Mr. Bush's victory on Tuesday was not based on his demonstrated competence in office or on a litany of perceived successes. For all the talk about values that we're hearing, the president ran a campaign that appealed above all to voters' fears and prejudices. He didn't say he'd made life better for the average American over the past four years. He didn't say he had transformed the schools, or made college more affordable, or brought jobs to the unemployed or health care to the sick and vulnerable.
He said, essentially, be very afraid. Be frightened of terrorism, and of those dangerous gay marriages, and of those in this pluralistic society who may have thoughts and beliefs and values that differ from your own.
As usual, he turned reality upside down. A quintessential American value is tolerance for ideas other than one's own. Tuesday's election was a dismaying sprint toward intolerance, sparked by a smiling president who is a master at appealing to the baser aspects of our natures.
Which brings me to the Democrats - the ordinary voters, not the politicians - and where they go from here. I have been struck by the extraordinary demoralization, even dark despair, among a lot of voters who desperately wanted John Kerry to defeat Mr. Bush. "We did all we could," one woman told me, "and we still lost."
Here's my advice: You had a couple of days to indulge your depression - now, get over it. The election's been lost but there's still a country to save, and with the current leadership that won't be easy. Crucial matters that have been taken for granted too long - like the Supreme Court and Social Security - are at risk. Caving in to depression and a sense of helplessness should not be an option when the country is speeding toward an abyss.
Democrats shouldn't cave in to Mr. Bush when he tries to appoint highly partisan judges - even when the effort to block a bad appointment fails, it will show supporters that the party stands for something. They should gear up for a bid to retake the Senate or at least make a major dent in the Republican lead. They should keep the pressure on Mr. Bush when he makes terrible policy decisions, which he will.
It's all right to take a few weeks to think it over. (Heads up to readers: I'll be starting a long-planned break next week, to work on a economics textbook. I'll be back in January.) But Democrats mustn't give up the fight. What's at stake isn't just the fate of their party, but the fate of America as we know it.
The hard part isn't believing the words. The hard part is getting past my own sense of personal grief. Mentally I know that we have go on, and to do nothing is unacceptable.
But I wasn't prepared for how completely this would knock me over, I feel like somebody died. Words are so inadequate to express my own sense of personal loss and failure. So I guess I'm trying to say, yes, I will be there to fight. But right now I'm grieving. Because that uphill battle has become the sheerest of cliffs and I can't face it in my current state. I'm also emotionally spent. I don't enjoy the constant sense of embattlement. I don't enjoy this vigil. Kerry not only meant hope. For me it meant that I put out the watch fires for a little while and attend to my own life.
So allow me these moments of wallowing and brooding. I'll get there soon, And I will continue to post. Just don't expect a return to good humor anytime soon.