But there’s one strange aspect of the election we haven’t heard anyone address yet: Both sides awoke on Nov. 6 absolutely sure their candidate would prevail. It was a certainty that wasn’t present in November 2008, when Sen. John McCain was visibly discouraged — aside from being exhausted — in the final days before his loss to Obama. And who could forget Bob Dole’s doleful face as the 1996 race wound to its landslide conclusion in favor of President Bill Clinton?
This year, top Republican operatives and observers agreed — without a smidgen of spin in sight — that pollsters had it wrong, that Romney would win, perhaps by a landslide. Reportedly, Romney didn’t even have a concession speech penned.
Likewise, Obama’s people were sure their “ground game” was superior and the swing-state polls were right on target.
They were right, of course. But even if they weren’t and the Republicans were, the phenomenon would still be curious: let’s call it “mutually destructive assurance.”
We blame it on a lack of listening.
With more and more media choices, partisans on both sides can cocoon themselves in news and commentary that supports their views. They can go through entire election cycles without hearing anything they disagree with — or at least, without hearing it raw, unfiltered and un-spun.
It’s no wonder that even in this very newspaper’s East Texas Mailbox, letter-writers regularly commented, “I don’t understand how anyone” could believe — or vote — differently.
We don’t understand, because we don’t listen to dissenting views.
There are practical reasons to listen to the other side — to turn on Fox News once in a while, if you’re a liberal, or to tune into MSNBC, if you’re a conservative.
The Cato Institute’s David Boaz remarked on Monday, “If the conservative media are going to tell Republicans what they want to hear, then smart Republicans had better start looking at a broader range of media.”
Politico complained of an “intellectually suffocating” political-media cocoon, and that’s certainly true – as far as it goes. But the same goes for the left. Romney’s surge came not after a slew of spending by superpacs, but after a debate performance which debunked much of what the liberal-leaning outlets had said about him.
Civil discourse requires just that — discourse. That means speaking and listening. Both conservatives and liberals should be confident enough in their positions that they’ll willing to hear the other side; if not, perhaps that’s an even better reason to listen to opposing views.
Right now, the GOP is rightly concerned about what it should learn from its wholly unexpected defeat. The most important take-away isn’t the “defeat” part, it’s the “unexpected” part.