Dead Souls

Barack Obama’s second presidential triumph has left many American conservatives feeling stranded.  It is as if they have become aliens in their native land.  Are conservatives simply sore losers, or does their sense of alienation correspond to a seismic disturbance in America’s political terrain?  It is hard to say, but this much seems clear: When a large part of the most responsible class of citizens cannot accept the result of an election, democracy—in whatever sense we use the word—is on the verge of collapse.

The alternation of party governments, so we have been told since childhood, is one of the pillars of our democratic political system.  Every few years roughly half of the eligible voters turn out to choose candidates from column A or column B, and the results send the happy winners to the county seat, state capital, or federal district to represent the people who elected them.  But who are these “people” who are being represented?  Are they all the people, or just the citizens who voted for the winning candidate?

In the old days, the losing side in a presidential election could concede defeat and spend the next four years merrily plotting a reversal of fortune.  Democrats acquiesced in the election of Dwight Eisenhower and (with some reluctance) Ronald Reagan, just as Republicans were willing to acknowledge Harry Truman or Jack Kennedy as spokesperson...

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