Monday, March 26, 2007

Crosses of Lafayette: The Image of our Discontent

Getty Images / Justin Sullivan

This week's Economist has a feature article about how the Iraq War has damaged the Republican party. The image picked by the Economist to represent everything that has gone wrong features the Crosses of Lafayette.
Collateral damage
Mar 22nd 2007 | WASHINGTON, DC
The Republican Party is among the war's victims

FOUR years ago, as American troops rolled across Iraq, the Republican Party was on a roll too. Republicans not only controlled the whole of Washington (seven of the nine Supreme Court justices had been appointed by Republican presidents). They controlled the majority of governorships as well—including those of mega-states such as Florida and New York—and they were winning the war of ideas, thanks to a division of conservative think-tanks.

Republican strategists were consumed by heady visions of power without end. The “war on terror”, which was dividing the Democrats, was encouraging Republican factions to bury their differences. Karl Rove, George Bush's chief strategist, liked to compare his boss to William McKinley, the late-19th-century president who had ushered in an age of Republican dominance. Grover Norquist, an anti-tax crusader, dubbed Mr Bush “Reagan's son”.


There are plenty of reasons for the party's agonies. The Republicans fell victim to all the diseases of incumbency—from spending like drunken sailors to corruption to cronyism—and the Bush administration made a hash of responding to Hurricane Katrina. But the Iraq war lies at the heart of the party's problems. The war has deprived Mr Bush of the oxygen of popularity. A recent CBS News/New York Times poll found that only 39% of Americans now think that invading Iraq was the right thing to do, compared with 55% who think it was a mistake. It has also provided the Democrats with a huge stick with which to beat the opposition.


Stephen Bainbridge, a conservative academic at the University of California, Los Angeles, has argued that Mr Bush's decision to go to war has “pissed away the conservative moment by pursuing a war of choice via policies that border on the criminally incompetent.” William Buckley, the pope of the conservative movement, says that if Mr Bush were the leader of a parliamentary system, “it would be expected that he would retire or resign”. Richard Viguerie, another conservative veteran, says that “I've never seen conservatives so downright fed-up as they are today.”

The war has eviscerated the administration's reputation for competence—and with it the idea that the Republicans have an inherent advantage as the “Daddy” party. An administration that once boasted about its clutch of CEOs will forever be remembered for phrases such as “slam dunk” (of WMD intelligence) and “Mission Accomplished”, or for disasters such as the failure to prepare Walter Reed and other military hospitals to deal with casualties. The same CBS News/New York Times poll found that only 28% of people approved of Mr Bush's handling of the situation in Iraq.


But the Iraq war has destroyed the Republicans' advantage of decades. The party is losing support even among the once solid armed services. Today only 46% of servicemen describe themselves as Republican, compared with 60% in 2004—and only 35% of them approve of the handling of the war. Voters are now much more willing to listen to the Democrats on war and peace. Barack Obama's statement in 2002—“I'm not opposed to all wars. I'm opposed to dumb wars”—is a perfect refrain for a resurgent party.


At the same time, the war has taken a huge toll on the administration's domestic policies. After the 2004 election Mr Bush sketched out an ambitious agenda for avoiding the fate of previous second-term presidents and moving the country in a more Republican direction: reforming immigration and Social Security, simplifying taxes and lifting regulations. That agenda has come to almost nothing. Senior figures have been constantly distracted by dealing with the fallout from Iraq. (One reason the administration was so tardy in dealing with Katrina was that Karl Rove was worried he might become a victim of the Plame affair.) In late 2005 the administration concluded that it was impossible to push through big initiatives, such as Social Security reform, in a time of war.

The man who will pay the biggest political price for Iraq will ultimately be Mr Bush. It is hardly surprising that liberal historians debate whether he is the worst president ever. But now conservatives are beginning to play the same game. A recent poll of hard-core conservative activists found that only 3% described themselves as George Bush Republicans, compared with 79% who regarded themselves as Ronald Reagan Republicans. But the damage will not be limited to the party leader. For years to come, the Republicans will be paying a collective price for the “stuff” that happened in Iraq.

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Blogger MediaSpinner said...

Great photo. I've recently posted a new 11 minute video about the Crosses of Lafayette at

10:29 AM  

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