Accept it. Learn from it. We lost. Again.

My first response was denial. Most of the national polls showed President Bush ahead from September on, but I adopted the John Zogby view that the election was John Kerry’s to win–that the undecideds always break for the challenger, the polls weren’t capturing the youth vote, or the minority vote, or the unmarried women with cellphones vote. And then the exit polls were all Kerry’s way. How could he lose?

Next day, the e-mails were full of grief and despair. I proposed an article dignifying the mourners. But a colleague disagreed. She was angry. She wanted to fight back.

Later, the bargaining began. (“Oh, God, just give me. …”) No redder state than Montana, Howard Dean’s message said, but the new governor of Montana is a Democrat. That’s so cool!

And right here in red-state North Carolina, Democrats won both houses of the General Assembly, and among the newly elected are progressive folks like Doug Berger, Janet Cowell, Pricey Harrison and–from New Hanover County–our first openly gay legislator, Sen.-elect Julia Boseman.

You see the pattern?

Denial. Anger. Bargaining. Depression.

They’re the first four stages described by Elizabeth Kubler-Ross in her book On Death and Dying. The fifth and final stage: Acceptance.

We need acceptance.

Against the first president since the Depression to lose jobs, we lost.

And a president whose views on Social Security, health care and every other important domestic policy except gay marriage are opposed by most Americans, we lost.

Against a president who attacked a country to remove non-existent weapons of mass destruction, and who declared “Mission Accomplished” before the inevitable guerrilla war even began, we lost.

No, not by much, just 51-48 percent. And yes, a lot of votes were “spoiled,” and thus left uncounted, by crummy old punch card voting systems, which just so happens to be the way they still vote in the poorest parts of Ohio. And a lot of touchs-screen screw-ups were reported, and we should have a verifiable paper trail for every vote.

But that’s not why we lost.

Not when our candidate came in 3.5 million votes behind a Know-Nothing.

(And, yes, in a two-party system, our candidate was Kerry.)

Imagine the result if Bush had done something right.

Then realize, we lost because a majority of the voters–the actual voters, not just the ones we hoped would come–think we know even less than W.

That’s gotta hurt.

So I think a little mourning is in order, but then we need to accept that if we’re not dead yet, we’re certainly dyin’ out there, people, and we have been since 1964.

I got a note yesterday from a friend who said not to worry, the pendulum always swings back, we’re down now but we’ll be up soon, yadayadayada. As I read the history, however, the pendulum last swung our way in 1932, and it took the Great Depression to swing it. Before that, the Republicans were the dominant national party from the Civil War on, in no small part because they left the segregated South to the Democrats.

The pendulum swung back to the GOP after Lyndon Johnson gave us Vietnam and the Civil Rights Act of 1964; since then, Republicans have won seven of the last 10 presidential elections, taken over both houses of Congress, and gained control of the Supreme Court and most of the lower federal courts. They’re winning in the South and the West, the fastest-growing parts of the country. Oh, but the growing Hispanic populations out west will save us, we’re told. Really? Hispanics went for Kerry, but according to the exit polls, his 55-45 percent edge was 10 points less than Al Gore’s.

And the issues are still Vietnam and civil rights, by the way. On the first, the country’s still pissed at us for losing it. That’s right, we on the left lost Vietnam by questioning it. And on the second, they don’t even think black people deserve “special rights” after three centuries of enslavement. So they by-God aren’t gonna give any to gay people, see?

Gracious, if we weren’t such reasonable people, we’d be darned angry.

What’s my point? It’s a simple one, really. Democrats need to accept that they are the opposition party in the United States, not the governing party. The Republicans are the governing party, and they must be held accountable for it. But as long as the Democrats continue to feel, in their heart of hearts, like they should be in charge, and will be again very soon, and ought to defend the government even though they don’t run it, the Republicans will be free to pummel them for all the mistakes the government is making–even though it’s the Republicans who are making them.

An opposition party fights. It doesn’t hem and haw.

Who’s responsible for the out-of-control federal spending and the enormous budget deficits?

The Republicans are.

Who cut taxes for the rich while the wages of working people were falling and millions were losing health insurance?

The Republicans did.

Who’s losing Iraq?

The Republicans are.

And yet, most voters seem to hold the Democrats responsible, if for no other reason than that the Democrats feel so responsible, and look so guilty, as they vote for and against Bush’s war, for and against the Bush tax cuts, for and against Bush adding prescription drugs to the Medicare program, but only as long as Big Pharma can charge whatever it wants for them, and on and on.

Who fought to keep women down? And blacks? And now gays?

The Republicans, that’s who. But it was John Kerry who looked so embarrassed to be using the word “lesbian,” and then he apologized when Lynne Cheney attacked him for using it, instead of telling Lynne where to stick it.

If your party is pro-gay, be pro-gay. Don’t mumble. Fight the power, and call hatred for what it is. The Debnam Approach Raleigh businessman Dean Debnam, the Democrat whose polls we cite sometimes, likes to say that when your competitor is beating you with an inferior product, you don’t change your product, you change your methods. The Republicans are constantly on the attack? Attack them.

My point exactly.

Debnam was incensed when The News & Observer and, yes, the Independent Weekly endorsed Republican Bill Fletcher for state Superintendent of Public Instruction, despite what we at the Indy termed his “Stone Age” views on sex education. Debnam is pro-sex ed, and he knows from his own polls that most women are, too. So, taking matters into his own hands, he launched 100,000 robo-calls from his company’s telephone center on behalf of Democrat June Atkinson.

“I’m Dean Debnam, the father of five daughters,” they began, and went on to express Debnam’s “outrage” that Fletcher, as a member of the Wake County school board, refused to support even voluntary courses if they went beyond the basics of “abstinence-only.”

Debnam didn’t ask Atkinson’s permission, and thinks if he had she wouldn’t have given it, since he’s heard she wanted only positive campaigning. But if Atkinson wins–and at last count she was about 2,900 votes ahead of Fletcher, with several thousand provisional ballots still to be counted–his clear, if negative, product statement may be the reason.