It was only the third day after the election, just a few minutes before supper, when the phone rang. "Good," I thought, in one of those strange convolutions one's mind goes through at such times. "At least and at last it will be someone I know, and not a pollster or a fundraiser or a be-sure-to-vote-for-our-cause activist."
Wishful thinking. "Mr. Belz," the unfamiliar voice said, "the results of the election are so profound, and the need for our response is so clear, that we are coming to you right away to ask for your generous help."
"How could you?" I thought. "How dare you?"
For three days, my mind had been reeling-trying somehow to piece together the meaning of all that had happened the previous Tuesday. What on earth were the American people saying? What direction was our nation heading?
The signals had been so contradictory. And I didn't like it that someone else found it so easy to interpret what was still so confusing to me.
I was baffled that the same day's voting would tell cause loyalists like Rick Santorum and Jim Talent that their role in the U.S. Senate was over, and at the very same time send several party traitors (like Lincoln Chafee) packing. On the social conservatism front, I was puzzled that in seven out of eight states where bans on homosexual marriage were being proposed, the voters got it right and upheld the bans-but that in two cases where abortion and embryonic stem-cell research were the issue, voters couldn't get through their heads how pivotal the measures were.
Big spenders of the public purse were both penalized and rewarded on Nov. 7. Some analysts said Republicans didn't take the immigration issue seriously enough, while others claimed they took it too seriously. It's hard to discern a pattern.
Even with reference to the war in Iraq-supposedly the granddaddy of all issues-the message was mixed. President Bush and his war cadre were blistered not just by those who said the war was wrong but by others (even among the Democrats) who said the war hadn't been pursued vigorously enough and that the United States had been too timid. We should have had even more troops in Baghdad, such folks said.
All of which prompts me to say to my late afternoon phone caller-and to everyone else who wants to make politics an all-important, all-consuming, full-time occupation:
"Give me some space! Give me some quiet time. Give me a chance to sort things out. I know the issues are urgent, and I sense that these are desperate times. But I'm not sure that direct mail and phone robots are the surest route to the solutions we all need."
Admittedly, such a time of thoughtful reflection may prove costly for the Republican Party.
Evangelical Christians who only one or two election cycles ago thought they had no choice but to vote a virtually straight ticket for the GOP were, on Nov. 7, given a good excuse to rethink their options. Republicans themselves opened that door with the incredibly dismal record of so many of their candidates: personal sexual scandal, dalliance with political financial corruption, voracious commitment to pork barrel spending, disdain for the big three social issues (abortion, marriage, embryonic stem-cell research). Add to that record of recklessness a handful of winsome Democrats, at least a few of whom sounded like more consistent evangelicals than the scoundrels they were challenging, and you're holding a recipe for dramatically reshaping the political landscape. What seemed so assured for the GOP after the 2004 election now seems more like a distant dream.
That's not by any means a bad thing for our nation. It is, in fact, most unhealthy for any political party or machine to be able to take for granted the en masse votes of big blocs of sometimes unthinking people. It hasn't been healthy for the nation to let the Democrats through the years assume they automatically own the votes of most African-Americans or of most labor union members.
But it's no more healthy for Republican candidates to assume they have evangelical Christians in their pockets.
So please don't call me this week if all you've got in mind is to enlist my support for your latest campaign. I just need a little time to think.