November 11, 2012
On Wednesday morning, sober conservatives pondered an election defeat, swallowed their disappointment and turned their attention to things that truly affect their lives, such as work and family. But there are other conservatives, who were profoundly affected by their collision with reality.
Upon learning of Barack Obama's victory, they envisioned themselves in one of two movies: "Man on a Ledge" or "Braveheart." The first group fell into utter despair. The second chose furious defiance. All agree the apocalypse is at hand. The argument is only about what to do next.
Why the reaction should be so intense is a mystery. We have already had four years of Obama, and the consequences have been endurable, if not enjoyable to all.
Capitalism is managing tolerably well, with the stock market up dramatically since he took office. Inflation is low and unemployment has fallen. The Bush tax cuts have survived. So has the Second Amendment. We remain the premier military power on the planet.
In fact, things have not changed a whole lot. But somehow, the alarmists believe that a second term will usher us into a totalitarian hell.
"It really is liberty versus tyranny," declared Rush Limbaugh in a fit of gloom, pleading to listeners, "I'd love to be talked out of it." He will not be talked out of it by Robert Stacy McCain, who wrote in The American Spectator that "America is doomed beyond all hope of redemption, and any talk of the future fills me with dread and horror."
We can hope they enlist the help of Fox News commentator Charles Krauthammer, who said, "As a psychiatrist, I will offer to write prescriptions for anyone who needs them right now."
Donald Trump took the defeat as grounds not for despondency but — his word — "revolution!" He shouldn't expect an argument from radio talk show host Mark Levin. "We do not accept bipartisanship in the pursuit of tyranny," he thundered. "We will not negotiate the terms of our economic and political servitude."
Levin imagines himself as Mel Gibson's William Wallace, who chose death over submission to a despot, shouting "Freedom!" as he died. But this is not commitment to principle. It is, as Daily Beast blogger Andrew Sullivan marveled, "delusion and mania."
The hysterics' definition of tyranny is being forced to buy health insurance to prevent them from becoming public charges — under terms identical to those prescribed by the man who was supposed to save us from servitude, Mitt Romney.
It's returning to a top marginal tax rate lower than the one that prevailed during most of Ronald Reagan's time in office. It's keeping entitlements Republican presidents preserved and even expanded.
These conservatives cannot bring themselves to admit all the ways in which America has grown freer in our time. Wage and price controls have been relegated to the scrap heap of history. Deregulation has occurred in one sector after another.
Speech, including corporate speech, is less constrained than ever. Radio stations no longer have to provide airtime for different viewpoints. Gambling is legal in almost every state. The Supreme Court recognizes an individual right to keep and bear arms.
Marijuana laws have become more permissive. Women enjoy equality. Racial and ethnic minorities are full participants in our society. Gays have been largely freed of persecution and can get legal protection for their families.
Communism is dead. Socialism is dead. They live on only in the nightmares of conservative fear-mongers.
The problem is that drama queens make no effort to comprehend the liberal mind. Obama and his party are not actually aflame with the dream of turning America into North Korea. They merely have different ideas about how to address problems they regard as a collective responsibility in a practical way.
Democrats are often mistaken about how their remedies would work. But if conservatives treat those proposals as nothing more than ruses to enslave us, they will not be taken seriously.
Some Obama policies may indeed curtail economic freedom at the margin, but not so much as to warrant howling panic, and not in any way that future elections cannot undo. Exaggerating the danger insults our intelligence and discredits serious conservative and libertarian ideas.
Chuck Norris and his wife, Gena, warned Americans that Obama's re-election could mean "1,000 years of darkness." But look! The sun came up today. Don't be surprised if it does again tomorrow.
Steve Chapman is a member of the Tribune's editorial board and blogs at chicagotribune.com/chapman.
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