It's for keeps
The trouble with relying on metaphors and historical parallels as a guide to analyzing a recent event lies in figuring out which one to use. It is particularly hard to find the right fit in the case of Roy Moore's loss to Doug Jones in Alabama. What lessons can be learned from it?
The most obvious one for conservatives is "don't get cocky kid" after the big win last November. Recalling that "we learn more from defeat than victory" conservatives could philosophically regard it as a prophylactic loss. Just as the liberals came back stronger after absorbing the bitter lessons of 2016 surely a chastened populist rebellion can learn from its mistakes in time for 2018 and 2020.
If they learn the right lessons. But one can always learn the wrong ones and it's not easy to see which is which. The future is always new and unpredictable. Hillary, like the Bourbons, had no capacity to learn anything from the past and while the adage that "Generals always fight the previous war" seems useful in fact you can't fight one that hasn't happened yet. The landscape in a year or three years time could be very different for both parties.
That uncertainty will impel others to say, let's go back to the basics. Up the training. Success, it has been said, consists not in doing the extraordinary but in mastering the ordinary. Some will conclude the lesson is to professionalize, to pay more attention to candidate screening and messaging and less to internecine politics.
Still others will be looking for wider lessons in the recent campaign, such as when for example, it became necessary to support Roy Moore principally because the other side was attacking him thus inadvertently giving the liberals the choice of ground. Erich von Falkenhayn nearly bled Joffre's army to death by using a similar psychological trick. Falkenhayn's idea was simple: pick a target French pride could not concede and then mow down all the troops Joffre sent in to retake it.
The choice of Verdun was a natural for Falkenhayn’s battle of attrition, for here were located probably the strongest fortified systems in the world. More than mere forts, the formidable defenses symbolized the French army, French honor, and independence—indeed, France itself. Falkenhayn was right in arguing that a German victory here would be intolerable to the French, a moral and psychological blow at the country’s heart. In defending it, Falkenhayn believed, they would sacrifice their army and then have to sue for peace.
The cheap trick cost the French republic a 150,000 lives. At least one short-lived Senate seat is nowhere as expensive
But perhaps the most salient and disturbing lesson of the Alabama campaign is both sides are truly at political war. The sound of the closing polls was the sound of the door of history shutting behind us.