In the past week, long talks with distressed Republicans. They will be blue until after Thanksgiving I suppose, or Christmas. The past few days various sayings, quotes and phrases returned again and again, unprompted, to my mind. “You can’t cry in your beer.” An old Irish saying which means, of course, that you can’t just be sad. “Don’t mourn, organize.” Joe Hill, leader of the Wobblies. Again, don’t indulge your feelings, try to understand what happened and realize what you have, which is where you’re starting.
In connection with that, the conversation between two Democrats. The first to her close friend, a longtime activist: “Congratulations, you worked so hard, you won, now you don’t have to worry!” The activist was startled: “Do you realize Romney got almost 59 million votes?” That’s a lot of people, he said. It is. Bad campaign, poor national candidate, could never quite reach seriousness and make the conservative argument, and yet: 59 million votes. That ain’t nothin’.
“Although I too have tried to be a philosopher, happiness kept breaking through.” That was from Michael Oakeshott. Don’t get grim and grumble, we’re all lucky to be alive, and if you are a Republican who happens to find meaning in struggle then good, you’ve got a big struggle on your hands. “When circumstances change, I change. What do you do, Sir?” This is attributed to John Maynard Keynes, that clever man. Sometimes you have to see the reality around you and make changes to accommodate it. “Nothing that is morally wrong can be politically right.” That was the great Liberal Prime Minister William Ewart Gladstone, moralist, longtime foil of Disraeli. As Republicans look at their party, its meaning, and what needs to be changed, they must keep Gladstone in mind.
Finally, and I’m not quite sure why, the name of a book I never read, a novel, kept going through my mind. “How to Make an American Quilt.” You take what pieces of cloth are nearby and at hand, you cut them into squares. They’re all different sizes, fabrics, colors. You stitch them together and at the end you’ve got something beautiful and useful, an American art form made of different and disparate pieces woven into a whole.
As I write I remember a small but perhaps meaningful historical fact. Margaret Thatcher, Ronald Reagan and Karol Woytilwa, who would become Pope John Paul II, all had mothers who took in sewing. When they were young, all three future statesmen saw their mothers stitching together things that had come apart or never been joined. All three children went on to make history by joining together things that had been ripped apart, such as the East and the West.
Lots of women took in sewing in those days, of course. But to see your mother engaged in something so constructive, every day, bringing things together and making them new again—what children see stays in their minds. Anyway, it’s quilt-making time for the GOP.