President Reagan often told the story of twin boys, one a deep pessimist, the other an incurable optimist. A therapist working with both boys took the former to a room piled with toys, and the lad burst into tears at the prospect of breaking them. Then he took the sunny fellow to a room filled with manure, and the boy immediately fell to digging, saying, "There's got to be a pony in there somewhere!" Mr. Reagan told the story on hundreds if not thousands of occasions, to the point that it became a code word for the president's default cheeriness in the face of difficulty.
After Tuesday night's nearly unbroken string of election setbacks, GOP optimists need to resist looking for a pony in that pile. They need to look for a new barn.
Better yet, they need to look for a barnyard brawl.
From California to D.C. and from Ohio to Texas, the political divides in the country are deep and, crucially, enduring. They cannot be papered over or dismissed as products of new media and direct mail.
Here are some of the fundamental and perhaps unbridgeable differences:
- Is national security the No. 1 priority and is the threat from Islamist radicalism real and close, or does our military action create more terrorists?
- Should we explore for oil where we think it might be, drill for oil where we know it is, and build refineries for the oil we have, or should we accept shortages and $4 a gallon gas as the price of our environmental policies?
- Do nominees to the Supreme Court have to swear they will be indifferent to the rights of the unborn in order to secure confirmation, or can a superbly qualified nominee who doesn't make that commitment be confirmed?
- Is marriage intended exclusively for one man and one woman?
None of the elections of 2005 was fought on these or other deeply divisive issues, and not surprisingly, the Democrats swept the field. True, most of the campaigns were fought in blue states, but Virginia is a red state and Democrats held on to the statehouse there.
The off-off year clashes underscore that Republican candidates cannot approach 2006 in timid fashion, afraid of their shadows and big media's relentless biases.
If they do so, a year from now Majority Leader Reid could be congratulating Judiciary Chairman Leahy on his new post, and thanking future presidential nominee Hillary for her contributions to the Democratic sweep.