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Fatwah / November 8, 2008

The first polls had just closed when the Republican Right’s “Agony of Defeat” moment arrived. It was just after 8 p.m. — right as Fox’s “America’s Election HQ” show returned from a commercial break, and Brit Hume welcomed viewers back to his “Fair and Balanced” network.

But something wasn’t right: There was a strange lack of background banter, none of the golf-buddy joshing that comes with overconfidence. There was just Bergman-esque silence between every one of Brit Hume’s dramatic pauses. The Fox cameras wandered over an incredible scene: the cream of right-wing/neocon punditry — William Kristol, Fred Barnes and Mort Kondracke — were caught slumped in their chairs during the commercial break, deep in a state of hopelessness and depression. They didn’t see the camera train on them, or maybe they were incapable of faking it, as if they’d been on a three-day Ecstasy roll at Burning Man, and now they were paying the horrible serotonin-deprived price. Kristol looked like he was suffering the worst: He was slouched over the table, his grotesque Stewie-shaped head sulking down to his navel, his glazed eyes staring down at the floor. He strained to lift his head when Hume called on him to comment — and when Kristol spoke, it was in a raspy, slow voice, not his usual smirking, energetic arrogance. To quote a sympathetic right-wing blogger, “Will Collier e-mails to tell me that he hasn’t seen Bill Kristol look this bad since his man McCain get stomped in S.C. by Bush in 2000.”

I started my Fox News Election Day Agony Watch at 6:30 a.m. I was expecting a lot of last-minute shrieking about voter fraud, ACORN and Barack Hussein Osama terrorist-mongering, the climax to a vicious campaign that Fox had been promoting over the previous month or two, but what was so strange that day was the relatively subdued, quasi-civil tone that Fox was taking. They pushed those buttons on Election Day, but only halfheartedly. You’d have to have watched a lot of Fox News — which I have, out of morbid curiosity — to detect the tonal shift on Nov. 4. It was as if they had decided to pull their punches. Before the polls opened, Ann Coulter appeared for a few minutes to riff against the liberals, but the 47-year-old MILF-wannabe looked oddly desperate in her mini-miniskirt and knee-high boots, as if she stole her imaginary teenage daughter’s clubbing outfit and wanted to show it off. The effect was wrong, a desperate eccentricity, like a neocon Michael Jackson.

What was going on? It was as if the Fox News execs were nervous, so they came up with a Plan B approach. Gone was the usual mob-incitement chest-beating that has made Fox News such a hit in Middle America. It seems that the craftier vanguard of the Republican right-wing mob got together and decided that this was the craftiest position to adopt. Just before the elections, Kristol published a New York Times column that threw his entire 20-year divide-and-quagmire playbook out the window in favor of a new pseudo-gracious “hey, we’re all friends, liberals and conservatives, and isn’t it a wonderful country we live in?” mantra.

The Fox execs also did their best to affect a civil, gracious tone. That’s why watching the Fox News agony-of-defeat spectacle was more subtle than I’d expected: The mob leaders had decided to abandon the mob — meaning if I wanted to get a glimpse into the raw screeching agony that the right wing really feels when the camera is turned off, I would have to head into the blog world, where they could squeal their lungs out in safe anonymity. The “patriots” at Freerepublic.com, which boasts millions of visitors, went through at least four rapid stages of decline on Election Day: first, hope; then utter shock at the realization of defeat; then outrage and a sense of betrayal; and finally a retreat into Christian prayer and empty threats of Red Dawn armed insurrection. The Freepers aren’t just outraged at Obama and the communist-Islamo-terrorists taking over the White House; they are also outraged at the Republican Party that “betrayed” them, outraged at the American population that proved to be nothing but brainwashed “sheeple” (someone named kimchilover wrote, “For the first time, in my adult life, I am ashamed of my country … my little take on Michelle’s sentiments”), and even outraged at, yes, Fox News, which they quickly sensed was abandoning them. Many couldn’t make sense of being abandoned by Fox. As one commenter wrote, “Watch Fox with the sound off and you will be LESS aggravated.”

I lapped up every squeal and screech on Freerepublic.com that I could. Gloating is a healthy human activity, nothing to be ashamed of. How could you not gloat when you watch a thread that goes from this:

My friend, wait until 11 or 12 Eastern time before drawing any conclusions, by then you will see the Palin landslide!! (by word_warrior_bob)

To this:

Turn out the lights. Party is over. Go to bed. … Election is lost. I’m gonna get drunk. (by GerardKempf)

And the most desperate, toothless woofing stance of all, so popular among the harmless nerds in Freeperland:

All over but the shooting. Stock up on guns and ammo. Use them whenever necessary. (PermaRag)

Next I checked a B-list neocon blogzine, Pajamas Media. You can get a sense of where the Republican elite and their mob followers are at Pajamas, which appeals to a more coastal, secular neocon demographic than the Freepers. Here again you could see what was only hinted at on Fox News.

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