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“For this relief, much thanks . . .”

November 6th, 2008 - 7:00 am

I think we all know how Francisco felt when Bernardo finally trundled along to take up the watch (Hamlet I.i). What a relief! The election did not have the result I wanted (nor the result I predicted, here, for example, or–before the evaporation of three or four trillion dollars from the US economy–here). But I am certainly glad it is over. A brief perusal of the comments elicited by some of those predictions shows that some readers–especially, it seems, those who dissent from my choice of neckwear–have forgotten their manners in their eagerness to gloat. That’s OK. Had the election gone the other way, I was planning to spend some time gloating myself.

I thought John McCain’s concession speech the best (and best delivered) speech he made in the entire campaign. Simple, articulate, “straight talking” as he more often said than did. I did not see but did read Obama’s victory speech, and that too was full of generous sentiments and–something I was especially happy to see–one or two pragmatic reassurances to the “other side,” i.e., my side.

If you’re on the losing side in an election, it’s difficult not to feel–what? Disappointed, certainly, and chagrined. In the case of Obama’s victory, when his supporters seem to regard him as a sort of Messiah, those feelings are supplemented by others. How to describe it? It’s a bit like going into an auditorium and finding several thousand people cheering for someone you believe just promised to make them poorer, less free, and less secure. You and your other 55,800,000-odd friends on the other side stand around scratching your heads and pondering the wonders of crowd sentiment.

Well, there will be plenty of time for second thoughts, retrospective explanations, and that great renewable source of energy: the wisdom of hindsight. For now, I want to leave readers with a soothing recommendation. I have been reading Duff Cooper’s charming memoir, Old Men Forget, first published in 1953. Cooper, the 1st Viscount Norwich, was a British diplomat, husband of Diana Cooper (reputed to be the most beautiful woman in England), and father of John Julius Norwich, the prolific writer. Cooper was a gifted writer himself (his biography of Talleyrand is said to be only intermittently accurate, but it is a joy to read) and he possessed a prodigious appetite for life. More on that, perhaps, in another post. For now, I simply want to share an observation Cooper made about politics that has relevance to America as it digests the results of the “historic” (as it has invariably been called) election. “Nothing,” Cooper said, reflecting on the rocky fortunes of the Labour Party in 1924, “can enlighten a theorist so quickly as the task of dealing with a practical problem; nothing can sober an agitator so completely as the weight of responsibility.” Will the many practical problems this country faces enlighten our new masters? Will the heavy weight of responsibility for the prosperity and security of the United States sober them up? I really don’t know. I hope so.

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