In the dimly recalled days of the last century where it was broadly possible to have a sensahuma about elections, a guy named Dick Tuck was generally described as a political prankster. Once upon a time, he actually ran for office and, predictably, lost.
His explanation for his loss lives for the ages: "The people have spoken, the bastards."
Tuck was making a joke. But the explanation offered by some conservative commentators this week for why Mitt Romney lost is even more derogatory: they say that the majority of voters lacked the moral fiber to uphold American values. And they aren't kidding.
Start with Bill O'Reilly's analysis even as the votes were being tallied on election night. (And by the way, Fox News was utterly riveting TV that evening. Particularly Karl Rove doing his best King Canute about the Ohio vote totals and Megyn Kelly as the voice of rationality calling Rove out.)
The problem, as O'Reilly saw it, wasn't that there was an issue with the GOP message. Or with the campaign strategy. Or even that Obama supporters had made an unfortunate error in judgment, after weighing the alternatives. What was it?
"It's not a traditional America any more. And there are 50 percent of the voting public who want stuff. They want things. And who is going to give them things? President Obama," O'Reilly said. "The white establishment is now the minority. And the voters, many of them, feel that the economic system is stacked against them and they want stuff. You are going to see a tremendous Hispanic vote for President Obama, overwhelming black vote for President Obama. And women will probably break President Obama's way. People feel that they are entitled to things and which candidate, between the two, is going to give them things?"
The next morning, on Fox and Friends, Andrew Napolitano endorsed O'Reilly's analysis and added his own:
"The majority of the country no longer embraces the tradition that we were taught as children, that our parents and grandparents and ancestors embraced. Things are changing right before our eyes."
This wasn't just a position heard on Fox. Here's Kevin Williamson, writing for the National Review:
"The lessons of Ohio are that Barack Obama is a skillful demagogue, that the ancients were wise to number envy among the deadly sins, and that offering Americans a check is a more fruitful political strategy than offering them the opportunity to take control of and responsibility for their own lives. This is what Oakeshott had in mind when he wrote that liberty was something that many people simply are not equipped to 'enjoy as an opportunity rather than suffer as a burden.'"
And here's Mark Davis, a conservative radio talk show host who does a regular column for the Dallas Morning News:
"I will blame the culture of dependency that leads millions to seek rescue paid by the incomes of others. And I will point to a society that has stood idly by while standards of family, self-reliance and independence have dwindled to mere shadows.
"There is already talk of what kind of Republican ticket might best address these issues in 2016. But before offering up a ticket driven by responsible spending and fidelity to the Constitution, we must guide people back to actually valuing those things."
So the winners in Tuesday's election were not merely wrong. They voted for Obama because they lacked the traditional values that have made America great. It was nothing less than a moral failure. All that talk by both sides for the past year about what "the American people" want and will surely vote for? Looks like one side is no longer so much enamored with the American people.
Does this sound familiar? A similar message became one of the signal moments of the 2012 presidential campaign:
"There are 47 percent of the people who will vote for the president no matter what. All right, there are 47 percent who are with him, who are dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims, who believe the government has a responsibility to care for them, who believe that they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you-name-it -- that that's an entitlement. And the government should give it to them. And they will vote for this president no matter what. ... These are people who pay no income tax. ... [M]y job is not to worry about those people. I'll never convince them they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives."
Romney's final tally, by the way, looks to have been about 48 percent of the popular vote.
To delegitimize the American authenticity of about half the electorate is a pretty bold move during a campaign. It's even bolder after losing an election. I'm no Nate Silver, but the math seems clear to me. For the GOP to ever win another national contest, the party must attract some of the voters who went for Obama this time -- and last time.
I'm not sure that insulting their patriotism and morality is the best first strategy.