The election is over, and the results aren't pretty for Republicans. Barack Obama won the presidency by a fairly comfortable margin, Democrats expanded their majority in the House, and the GOP is hanging onto the filibuster by a hair in the Senate. Now that the rallies have died down, the attack ads have been pulled off the air, and Americans are facing a new political reality, it may be instructive for those who supported the McCain-Palin ticket to revisit a slogan with which they're quite familiar: "Country First."
Throughout the general election season, this catchphrase adorned thousands of McCain rally signs, stump speech podiums, and election banners. It summed up, in two simple words, the essence of McCain's candidacy—the Republican ticket would put the nation's interests above all else, including partisan consideration and personal ambitions. Many of the 57 million citizens who pulled the lever for McCain have at some point waved a placard featuring this motto, and countless more have chanted it at campaign stops. Now that the votes have been cast and the people have spoken, what does "country first" mean for those who are disappointed with the results of November 4th? The Republican post-election manifestation of this noble creed should take several forms.
First, it should mean respecting the President of the United States, and the office he holds. The Left has attacked, defamed, belittled, and mocked the current president for the better part of eight years. They often carp about America's standing in the world without suspecting for an instant that their ceaseless efforts to tear down their own country's leader may well have contributed to the negative perception abroad. The Right should prove itself to be better than that by affording the new president the respect he deserves. Conservatives should do so not merely to foster a smug sense of superiority, but because it's the right thing to do. We face a dangerous and hostile world, rife with regimes and organizations that would like nothing better than to see the United States unravel. A modicum of national unity and solidarity could go a long way to put the country in the best position to confront these challenges.
President Bush's harshest critics vowed to move overseas after his election, and renewed the same silly pledge four years later. Disappointingly, precious few followed through on their immature threats, opting instead to undermine the sitting commander in chief at every turn. Many seemed to take a bit too much pleasure in American economic and military setbacks over the last eight years, so long as they could be laid at the feet of the man they so despised. When Katrina hit, prompting a woefully inadequate federal response, the near-joy with which the Left pilloried the Bush administration seemed to outstrip any real concern for the actual victims. Conservatives ought not fall into this political trap. Actively rooting against a presidency to the point of hoping for widespread suffering leading up to the next election is shamefully political and, indeed, unpatriotic.
Furthermore, the GOP cannot simply become the Grand Obstructionist Party. Knee-jerk opposition and partisan gridlock marked the Tom Daschle era in the US Senate from 2002 to 2004. What did these tactics earn them? A slew of lost seats, and a one-way plane ticket back to South Dakota for minority leader Daschle. Sen. John Thune successfully challenged Daschle, in part, by employing the rallying cry of "Stop the Obstruction" against a Democratic leader who orchestrated filibusters to thwart everything from Republican-sponsored legislation to a long roster of judicial appointments. The public viewed the Democrats as a party that had cornered the market on complaining and obstructing while proposing few proactive remedies. Sound familiar 2008 Republicans? With the roles now reversed, Republicans cannot simply be the party of "No!" over the next few years, as tempting as it may be. Not only do they lack the power or numbers to stop everything they'd like to, voters will continue to be unimpressed with a party whose main aim appears to be blocking and frustrating their political opposition.
On the other hand, a final—and crucial—element of embracing a "Country First" mentality is adhering to another McCain slogan, "No Surrender." It demonstrates neither good will nor patriotic fervor to simply lay down political arms and capitulate on essential values and principles. Granted, considering its weakened state, the Republican apparatus in Congress will be forced to pick its spots carefully to avoid the aforementioned obstructionist image, but when a cause is deemed worth fighting for, conservatives ought to battle to the political death.
A few examples come to mind. The possible attempt by the Left to silence talk radio through the Orwellian "Fairness" Doctrine is an abomination to the First Amendment and worthy of vigorous opposition. Card check, otherwise known by its misleading "Employee Free Choice Act" moniker, also merits a fight. Denying workers a private ballot on which to decide of whether or not to unionize represents an appalling transfer of power and intimidation tools to union bosses. Finally, the Freedom of Choice Act (FOCA), which Obama once cited as a top priority, must be stopped. Pro-life and pro-choice Americans can agree that some reasonable restrictions on abortion are acceptable. Bans on partial birth abortions and parental notification laws, for example, are widely supported by Americans of all stripes. FOCA would wipe away virtually all democratically-implemented checks on unfettered abortion, and would introduce taxpayer funded abortion. This must not be tolerated, and should be resisted every step of the way.
In his election night victory speech, President-elect Obama quoted Abraham Lincoln's words, "We are not enemies, but friends...though passion may have strained it must not break our bonds of affection." Obama then pledged to listen to the voices of the tens of millions who opposed him, explaining that he needs their help and promising to be their president, too. These Americans should heed his call for unity and give him the benefit of the doubt until he gives them reason to believe otherwise. They should also remind him of this promise, and make sure that their voices are heard loudly, clearly, and respectfully for the next four years.