Jonah Goldberg
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If the Republicans can't fight wars and the Democrats stink at socializing medicine, what good are they?

That would not be an altogether unreasonable question for a typical American today.

No doubt spokesmen for the respective political parties would offer all sorts of objections to that summation. And many of those objections would be fair. A defender of George W. Bush's stint as commander in chief would point to the quick toppling of Saddam and the Taliban. He or she might argue that the Democrats undermined a wartime president and fomented defeatism.

As for the Democrats, a partisan might claim that Obamacare was never intended to "socialize" medicine. While the president said that he'd prefer a single-payer system, what he proposed fell far short of that and included some Republican ideas. A Democrat-defender might also note that the Republicans are "invested in failure," as the president recently put it, and have done everything they can to undermine the Affordable Care Act.

Let's just concede there are many arguments and counterarguments to all of that.

But such arguments are for professional political protagonists. For the normal American who doesn't live and breathe politics, the simple fact is that Democrats and Republicans alike have failed to live up to their brands.

Consider war, which used to be considered part of the GOP's core competency. There was a time when Americans understood that war involved a lot of warlike stuff: tanks, bombers, civilian casualties and, of course, American casualties. But over the last 30 years, as technology has improved and our military might has become unrivaled, the American public has raised the bar in terms of what it expects. Politically and morally, we have a much lower tolerance for bloodshed. That's one reason Obama uses drones so much: They can be guided around a lot of political problems.

The Iraq war was sold, at least at times, as a war that would find weapons of mass destruction, end quickly, pay for itself and usher in a new era of democracy for an Iraqi people who would be grateful for being liberated from a tyrant. Suffice it to say that the Bush administration didn't check every one of those boxes.

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Jonah Goldberg

Jonah Goldberg is editor-at-large of National Review Online,and the author of the forthcoming book The Tyranny of Clichés. You can reach him via Twitter @JonahNRO.
 
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