Even if Kerry had ended up winning Ohio by some miracle, the popular vote shows that the public has opted for Bush and what he stands for. It wouldn’t have taken much for things to have gone the other way; and the next election may reverse the results; but the outcome is nevertheless a significant milestone of American decline. Nirad Chaundhuri, the querulous Bengali centenarian and sometime personal secretary of Mahatma Gandhi, once wrote that a nation that has decided to go down will find the appropriate leader to show it the way. He was thinking about mediocre English parliamentarians of the interwar years, but the comment also suits this moment in time. Bush really is the right man for the job.
Democrats and other moderates will have to recognize the limits of what can be achieved. Things will get much worse before they stabilize at a lower level of equilibrium, and the most that can be reasonably hoped is that America will adjust to its new status as a second-rate power with a minimum of casualties. As it sinks in that our military preponderance will not solve all problems and that running up huge trade and budget deficits does indeed have consequences, the temptation is going to be to lash out at other nations while seeking scapegoats at home for declining incomes and increasing cultural and environmental degradation. Under the circumstances, cooperating with the administration is simply wrong, and we should avoid talk of bipartisanship. The task of the opposition is to oppose. As the unfortunate sons and daughters of an increasingly dysfunctional clan, we can’t just throw up our hands and let our relations destroy the neighborhood. It’s our family, too; and we’re responsible for what it does.