Washington usually lives up to its reputation as a place where time stands still when all people in all the other places want to move, if not at warp speed, faster than Congress will. The Democrats, still as addled as the famous duck hit on the head by the farmer's wife with a long-handled wooden spoon, are still trying to get through the famous five stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. They're still stuck on denial. How could such a thing happen when we're so wise, so good, so compassionate, so sincere?
These are the stages of grief that Elisabeth Kubler-Ross, the late and eminent Swiss psychiatrist who pioneered near-death studies, came up with in her book "On Death and Dying," which was written to help women facing new lives as widows. But the categories can be applied accurately as well to life in Washington, where losers usually regard defeat and going back to Peoria as something considerably worse than death. Losing is doom writ large when applied to whole political parties.
Nancy Pelosi, who dreams the impossible dream of watching the Democrats take back the House of Representatives in the lifetime of nearly everybody now alive on Capitol Hill, is splashing about, struggling piteously, drowning in denial. "I do not believe what happened the other night is a wave," she said a full week after the wave washed away Democrats in Congress in wholesale numbers. "I do not believe what happened the other night is a wave of approval for the Republicans. I wish them congratulations, they won the election, but there was no wave of approval for anybody. There was an ebbing, an ebb tide, for us." That was some tide, some ebb.
President Obama feels no responsibility for the remarkable Democratic losses. Nothing has changed. Everyone likes his medicine; he just needs to freshen up the label. He's moving full speed ahead with his immigration "reform," to admit millions of illegals to permanent residence, with citizenship and full voting rights soon afterward. He said some things after the full extent of Democratic misery became known — he knows words, after all, if not necessarily what some of them actually mean — that sounded conciliatory. He's eager to work with Congress, he applauds how democracy works, he wants to make the last two years of his presidency as productive as possible, blah, blah, blah. But these words were followed by others that make it clear that conciliation is for sissies, and a man must have his confrontations.
"Congress will pass some bills that I cannot sign," he said at a press conference on the miserable morning after. "I'm pretty sure I'll take some actions that some in Congress will not like." He sounded like a man who can't wait.
The president clearly doesn't want advice to the contrary, or to channel previous presidents who had to come to terms with unpleasant reality and work through the five stages of grief to the ultimate, full acceptance.
Thomas "Mack" McLarty, an international trade consultant who was chief of staff in Bill Clinton's first term, offered some good Arkansas horse sense to the president the other day in an op-ed essay in The Wall Street Journal. Maybe somebody at the White House could slip into the Oval Office to put a copy on his desk.
The last two years of a second term can be among the most eventful, he wrote a few days before November. "President Reagan negotiated an arms deal with the Soviet Union. President Clinton led a war in Kosovo and sealed a trade pact with China. President George W. Bush authorized the 'surge' in Iraq and unprecedented steps to combat a global financial meltdown.
"These lame ducks could fly. For President Obama, the runway after [the elections] is strewn with obstacles. But he has some of the same opportunities that his predecessors seized. And, if anything, the costs of not acting have risen, at home and abroad. The American people are demanding leadership that only the president, in co-operation with Congress, can provide."
Alas, the Democrats are more likely to take the example of denial of the Southern belle in an essay by Florence King, the eminent scholar of literature and human foibles. Miss King's belle returned to Mississippi after a weekend in Manhattan and explained to her mother how she had not really lost her maidenly innocence. "I was drunk," she said, "and I was not lying down. And besides, it happened in New York."