As the Republican debacle retreats ever more in the rear-view mirror, what can be said of the road ahead?
First, a retrospective….
The congressional results were awful, but not out of line with midterm results during Korea and Vietnam. With considerable encouragement from the press, Americans do not look kindly on protracted war. They are notoriously impatient, accustomed to results yesterday. In war they want victory fast, a quick in-and-out.
Bleeding Iraq was a major contributor to the November 7 results, and the administration helped principally in not asking for national sacrifice. Following 9/11, President Bush told the citizenry to go on as though nothing had happened — and not to let the attack, which he said changed everything, change anything in individual lives and routines. Instead, he should have demanded sacrifice and broadened participation in the war effort.
But Iraq was not the only contributor to Republican electoral defeat in this country closely divided on partisan lines for at least a decade. Republicans took control of Congress in 1994 saying they would do better and be better than the Democrats. Yet scandal after congressional scandal demonstrated that too many Republicans in Washington behaved badly — as badly as the Democrats who had gone before. Republicans also lost control of the congressional agenda and reaffirmed that when it comes to governance, they do it less well than the Democrats.
Republicans also retreated from the values that carried them to victory a dozen years before. Notes Indiana Republican Mike Pence, who might become the next House minority leader: “After 1994, we were a majority committed to balanced federal budgets, entitlement reform, and advancing the principles of limited government. In recent years, our majority voted to expand the federal government’s role in education and entitlements, and pursued spending policies that created record deficits and national debt.”
If Iraq combined with Republican arrogance, hubris, and corruption to return control of Congress to the Democratic claque, what will the future hold? Likely, for instance, these things:
— Investigations into administration performance in the War on Terror.
— A hike in the minimum wage — leading to higher unemployment and the very outsourcing liberals in another voice deplore.
— Protectionism and limits on free trade.
— Refusal to confirm John Bolton as ambassador to the UN.
— Refusal to confirm federal judicial nominees uncommitted to legislating from the bench.
— Failure to do the things necessary — such as approving drilling in ANWR and offshore — to help move the country toward energy independence.
— Failure to build into Social Security the reforms it has to have to survive.
— Failure to extend the temporary federal tax cuts scheduled to expire toward the end of this decade.
— To borrow from Virginia’s Senator-elect Jim Webb, new emphasis on “economic fairness” and “social justice,” and a corresponding de-emphasis on national security powers for the administration. And what is in store regarding Iraq and the broader War on Terror? That is harder to visualize, and must be done in the context of commendable Democratic performance in key wars past.
The jihadists are not out there playing Parcheesi. They want to kill us, as non-believers in Islam, and establish a worldwide caliphate. And they mean business. Last week a Washington Post report datelined London noted: “British spies are watching 1,600 people in 200 cells believed to be plotting terrorist acts in Britain or overseas, according to the head of Britain’s domestic spy agency. ‘More and more people are moving from passive sympathy toward active terrorism,’ said Eliza Manningham-Buller, director general of the MI5 intelligence agency.”
Whatever the American course, two points:
(1) America must continue prizing its military, as opposed to regarding it — in John Kerry’s late-campaign idiocy — as a cohort of the incompetent and the dumb.
And (2) George Will offers this from Dick Cheney as secretary of defense in the first Gulf War — arguing with eerie prescience against driving on to Baghdad:
“Once you’ve got Baghdad, it’s not clear what you do with it. It’s not clear what kind of government you would put in place of the one that’s currently there now. Is it going to be a Shia regime, a Sunni regime, or a Kurdish regime? Or one that tilts toward the Baathists, or one that tilts toward the Islamic fundamentalists? How much credibility is that government going to have if it’s set up by the United States military when it’s there? How long does the United States military have to stay to protect the people that sign on for that government, and what happens to it once we leave?”
The Republican Congress proved incapable of helping expand the sense of national sacrifice or helping expand the participation of Americans in the war effort. It also proved incapable of helping produce answers to Cheney’s questions that would not deliver Iraq into chaos — and would not deliver to the world messages of America as unreliable in the long haul and an unfaithful ally.
Will the Democrats redux prove any more capable of contributing to such answers in an hour when national sacrifice and broadened participation are emphatically not their cries?