Danny Lemieux alerted me to a Jerusalem Post article that uses the Civil War as a prism through which to examine the upcoming elections. Max Singer, who wrote the article, points out that Lincoln was losing big time in the lead-up to the 1864 elections (with daily death tolls sometimes equal to or exceeding all the lives lost in four years in Iraq) and that Democrats were then, as they are now, insisting that all was lost and the President and his party should go:
But on September 1 the news reached Washington that Atlanta had fallen to the Union army, and on election day it appeared as if the North was on the way to victory. Lincoln was decisively reelected. And, according to historian Allan Nevins, “The damage done to the Democratic Party by the platform could not be undone. Its … stigmatization of the heroic war effort as worthless gave the Northern millions an image of the Democratic Party they could never forget….and would cost the party votes for a generation.”
FOR WELL over a year now most prominent Democrats have insisted that the Iraq war had been lost and that the US should get its troops home as quickly as possible. It was true that the US was losing the war in 2006. Two responses were possible. The Democrats response was, in effect, “the war is hopeless, we should give up.” The administration response was, “we have to do something different so that we can win.”
Most voters prefer the second response – especially when it is successful.
In November 2008 it is likely to be clear that if the US had followed the Democrats’ advice the US would have suffered an unnecessary defeat. Those voters who believe that the US is facing dangerous threats from jihadis may well feel that it is not safe to bring to power the party that would have brought defeat in Iraq.
It certainly would be nice if Singer was right. I’m not always sure that we Americans are the same people, though, as Americans of yore. I first had this feeling in a barren, hot, rock strewn, windswept canyon in the middle of nowhere Utah. What distinguished it from other, similar canyons is that it was a highway for the pioneers. The walls were filled with hundred year old graffiti from those who passed through: messages to loved ones, boasts of survival and, so often, death notices. It was quite moving because it was such a testament to the spirit of endurance that characterized that American generation.
As I stood there in the blistering heat, with no water to be seen, I couldn’t help contrasting those pioneers with modern Americans. We’re a people who drive a block to pick up a gallon of milk, who freely spill our sordid secrets on Talk TV, and who have raised a generation of children that has never heard a discouraging word, no matter how well-deserved it might be. I wonder, therefore, whether we as a nation still have the drive, the commitment, the stamina and the integrity to take on any long fight. I worry that, as with the Romans at the end of their Empire, we’ve become so effete we can no longer defend ourselves. It took the Romans 500 years or so to reach that pass. Have we, in the modern, accelerated age, managed to do the same in half that time?
UPDATE: Turns out that Rudy Giuliani has the same sense of modern American malaise as I have, but he’s much more optimistic. Over at BotW, I read this excerpt from a recent Giuliani speech:
I get very, very frustrated when I . . . hear certain Americans talk about how difficult the problems we face are, how overwhelming they are, what a dangerous era we live in. I think we’ve lost perspective. We’ve always had difficult problems, we’ve always had great challenges, and we’ve always lived in danger.
Do we think our parents and our grandparents and our great grandparents didn’t live in danger and didn’t have difficult problems? Do we think the Second World War was less difficult that our struggle with Islamic terrorism? Do we think that the Great Depression was a less difficult economic struggle for people to face than the struggles we’re facing now? Have we entirely lost perspective of the great challenges America has faced in the past and has been able to overcome and overcome brilliantly? I think sometimes we have lost that perspective.
Do you know what leadership is all about? Leadership is all about restoring that perspective that this country is truly an exceptional country that has great things that it is going to accomplish in the future that will be as great and maybe even greater than the ones we’ve accomplished in the past. If we can’t do that, shame on us.
And to this, James Taranto adds a little more:
This is exactly right, and we hope Giuliani keeps hammering home the point. In the conservative circles in which we usually travel, we hear far too much depressive, alarmist talk.
And the left is much worse. They are so scared of terrorism that they have constructed an elaborate system of denial. They lash out at anyone who takes the terror threat seriously (see Glenn Greenwald‘s silly attack on the Giuliani speech for an example), but their complacency is obviously phony, as evidenced by their lurid and obsessive fantasies about torture, tyranny, global warming and all other manner of unreal horrors.
In the same vein, as I wrote to a friend a week or so back, I think that Conservatives have one advantage in the upcoming election: As is Giuliani, they’re all fundamentally optimistic. I know that they recognize we’re engaged in a Titanic struggle between civilizations, a struggle that is depressing to think about, but their underlying optimism emerges in the fact that they believe America is a pretty great place. Democrats, on the other hand, deny the struggle, but are happy to tell us how rotten with are, and how much we could be if we could just allow them to change everything about ourselves. People don’t like hearing that kind of stuff in personal relationships, and may well dislike hearing it in political relationships too.