Summer Savings! Get unlimited digital access for 13 weeks for $13.
Op-Eds
News Opinion Op-Eds

Can the GOP reverse the damage done by Iraq?

Is the Iraq war to blame for the mess we are in?

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 President Obama has done a bang-up job.

There seems to be a growing consensus that the answer to that question is "yes." In a recent column, the Washington Examiner's Philip Klein writes, "It's hard to see how Obamacare would have become law if Bush had never invaded Iraq." New York Times columnist Ross Douthat says the war is "responsible for liberalism's current political and cultural ascendance." In The Wall Street Journal, Peggy Noonan laments that the war "muddied up the meaning of conservatism and bloodied up its reputation." She even goes so far as to assert that the war "ended the Republican political ascendance that had begun in 1980."

Quibbles aside, their most basic claim seems irrefutable. 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.

That the war became an albatross for the GOP -- particularly after so many pro-war Dems (like Hillary Clinton, John Kerry and Joe Biden) ran for the hills -- is undeniable.

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 (again: Clinton, Biden), then against Sen. John McCain, an energetic elder statesman who was actually more pro-war than George W. Bush himself.

Obviously, none of this means that if there had been no Iraq war, Republicans would be sitting pretty. As Mr. Douthat notes, we might be in the middle of a second Hillary Clinton term. But a 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's 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.

Some didn't even need a committee report. 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, Mr. 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. The moment the mainstream media could get away with calling Iraq a "quagmire," it did. With Obamacare, much of the press is like Kevin Bacon trying to be a traffic cop in Animal House. It shouts "All is well!" even as it's being trampled by the crowd.

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 President 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 President Obama may just be kind enough to provide.

Jonah Goldberg is the author of the new book "The Tyranny of Clichés." His email is  JonahsColumn@aol.com. Twitter: @JonahNRO.

Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun
Related Content
  • Clinton made a mess of foreign policy

    Clinton made a mess of foreign policy

    Now that Hillary Clinton is unemployed, here is a synopsis of world situations she was engaged in and responsible for during her tenure as Secretary of State.

  • Connecting communities and schools in Baltimore

    Connecting communities and schools in Baltimore

    A sea change is taking place in Baltimore, and it recently received national recognition. Where it's taking hold, school attendance is up. Chronic absenteeism is down. Student achievement and promotion rates are up. More families are engaged. School climates are being transformed.

  • Police brutality is a problem for everyone

    Police brutality is a problem for everyone

    This will not be a column about Sandra Bland, although it could be.

  • Planned Parenthood attack part of political agenda

    Planned Parenthood attack part of political agenda

    Planned Parenthood is the most trusted women's health care provider in this country. Approximately one in five women in the United States has relied on a Planned Parenthood health center for care in her lifetime. At Planned Parenthood, nothing is more important to us than the health and safety...

  • Overcoming the confidence gap

    Overcoming the confidence gap

    When I was sent the link to a Baltimore Sun article about four local girls making the U.S. national Under-19 lacrosse team, I was eager to read it. After all, I had played on that same team 16 years ago, and one of my own students is on the team. So I opened the link, read the first sentence, and...

  • Encouraging innovation in Md.

    Encouraging innovation in Md.

    A recent Kauffman Foundation study found that year-over-year startup activity in the U.S. increased in 2015 for the first time in five years and showed the largest increase in more than 20 years. This is particularly good news from an employment perspective because new firms create the vast majority...

  • Pathways, not fences, for Baltimore's homeless

    Pathways, not fences, for Baltimore's homeless

    Earlier this month, I drove past the newly constructed fence located at the corner of Martin Luther King Boulevard and Franklin Street. The fence was erected to keep out the dozens of homeless people who had staked out a tiny piece of land there that they could call home. The city removed them...

  • The statinization of America

    The statinization of America

    Anyone who wants to know why medical costs continue to skyrocket needs only to look at the paper published in the July 14 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association that examined the "cost-effectiveness" of increasing statin use. The article described a computer simulation that modeled...

Comments
Loading
84°