From the right, we hear that even though the Republicans were thoroughly trounced, the election is proof that the country is actually even MORE conservative than anyone this side of William F. Buckley dared dream, since most of the Democrats who did win were elected by way of a strategy similar to our own Heath Shuler’s, which consisted of running a pro-gun, pro-life, family values campaign torn out of the right wing playbook. In short, these are not really Democrats that were elected, so much as Republicans in sheep’s clothing. That’s the spin.
From the left, we are assured that the election proves that the Democratic Party is alive and well, that the tide has finally turned and the Republican Party has been disgraced and its policies discredited. Surely, the other shoe must drop in two years when Hillary Clinton wins the nomination and is elected the next president, right? The Democrats are in control now, bud, and with a mandate to change EVERYTHING!
Of course, both sides are full of it, as usual. The Republicans lost this election for one reason and one reason only, and that is the party’s tragically misguided support for President Bush’s disastrous decision to take our country into a pre-emptive war against Iraq. Granted, the Democrats also supported the war — in the beginning — but most of them recognized within a year or so that they had been lied to about the reasons for the war, as well as the “progress” we were making in it. As they began to peel off, the Republicans hung in there, loyal to Bush even in face of mounting evidence that the war was not only NOT going well, but was in fact getting worse and worse.
I have come to believe that Bush was re-elected in 2004 because the American people, the great majority of whom supported the war when it began, felt so heavily invested in it that voting for Bush was a vote for “seeing it through,” even if it went against their better instincts. It was an act of faith, a prayer, a symbol of hope. I was quite simply astonished at the time that Bush could have been re-elected, but it is more understandable to me now, even if the consequences are more disastrous than even the worst cynics could have imagined.
Now, of course, the great majority of Americans realize the awful truth about the war and the countless lies we have been fed both before and during the war. The election, if it proves anything, proves that Americans are tired of this war and tired of this administration, and perhaps are even prepared to face the consequences of what we’ve done over there, to Iraq, to ourselves, and to the world. The election was a vote against the war, nothing more and nothing less.
That is why the Democrats must now take the lead in holding Bush accountable and forcing him to take a new direction in the war. Every time a Republican or a pundit utters the pathetic phrase “cut and run,” they must be taken straight to the mat. Or better yet, handed a rifle and shipped off to Baghdad to man the post. After the honeymoon phase is over — which should be about any minute now — the Democrats are faced with the grim task of developing a strategy of their own for what to do about Iraq. It isn’t fair, really, given the mess they are inheriting, but that is their reality and they had better rise to the occasion, or this little “revolution” of theirs will be over very shortly.
So here’s a gut check: The first thing to do is to embrace a most unfortunate truth — there are no good options. If the Democrats do not face this reality and be straight with the American people about it, they are doomed to the same failure as Bush. If you can’t stay and you can’t go, what else can you do? Already there is talk about “redeployment,” most likely code for partial withdrawal (or “cut and run”), although there is also talk of sending even more troops in initially. In just a few months, we should see some plan that would include an attempt to bring the escalating civil war in Iraq to a halt, possibly by dividing the country among the factions.
Thanks to George W. Bush, we find ourselves in the impossible position of trying to help stabilize an area that we destabilized in the first place, but that is the only solution short of pulling out entirely, insulating ourselves the best we can, and just letting Iraq burn itself out until the survivors emerge, a humanitarian tragedy of unimaginable proportions.
There are no good options in Iraq. The Democrats are like the dog that chased the car. Now that they’ve caught it, what are they going to do with it? They’ve got two years to figure it out.