Is the Iraq war to blame for the mess we are in?
By JONAH GOLDBERG
Tribune Media Services
Now, I should qualify that question by explaining mess and we. By mess, I mean the dawn of Barack Obama's second term, the predictably catastrophic rollout of Obamacare, the exploding debt and deficit, the stimulus boondoggles, etc. By we, I mean conservatives (particularly those, like me, who supported the war), but also anyone else who doesn't think Obama has done a bang-up job.
There seems to be a growing consensus that the answer to that question is yes.
Whatever defenses there may be for the Iraq war, it was a staggering political disaster for the Republican Party. Is that fair? Maybe or maybe not. As a matter of analysis, fair doesn't have much to do with it.
The war became an albatross for the GOP.
The backlash against the war emboldened liberals and opened their minds and hearts to a vast new sense of what was possible. During George W. Bush's second term, liberals seemed to have lost the taste for cannibalism that had made the Democratic Party such a great spectator sport. Gone were the obsessions with factionalism and the hand-wringing squabbles about appealing to the center.
Younger liberals in particular had shed their disdain for the label Democrat. Heck yeah, we're Democrats. We're fighting Democrats, as the left-wing bloggers liked to say. And that was before the historic candidacy of Barack Obama, pitted first against the pro-war dinosaurs of the Democratic Party, and then against Sen. John McCain, an energetic elder statesman who was actually more pro-war than Bush himself.
Obviously, none of this means that if there had been no Iraq war, Republicans would be sitting pretty. But even a second Hillary Clinton administration, minus the legacy of the Iraq war, might have been a far sight more conservative and successful than the spectacle of the Obama years.
The more interesting question is: What do you do about it?
One answer is for the GOP to do what it has been doing. Fight, squabble, debate and, ultimately, grope its way out of the ditch. The Republican National Committee's recent autopsy had many flaws, but the impulse for introspection was not one of them.
Whatever the merits of his positions, one has to admire the swiftness and alacrity of Sen. Rand Paul's positioning as a different kind of Republican.
Another (in no way exclusive) answer is to take a page from the Democrats.
If the Obama agenda has pulled the country leftward and I think it has that creates new opportunities for the GOP.
Obamacare, the stimulus and the various green-energy boondoggles are in no literal way like the Iraq war. But as a matter of politics, Obama's overreach is real. For instance, every promise the White House made about the Affordable Care Act has turned out to be untrue, overblown or misleading. It borrows vast sums to make the health-care system more onerous, complicated and expensive while still leaving 30 million uninsured.
The press coverage of this unfolding train wreck remains timid in a way that coverage of the war wasn't.
Sad as it may be to say so, the failure of Obamacare touches more people's lives directly than the war did, meaning the media filter matters less.
Politics is about moments and personalities. Just ask Obama. By all means the GOP should keep working out its own problems as best it can, but its practical salvation in the near term may just have to depend on the right candidate taking advantage of the right moment, which Obama may just be kind enough to provide.