War Loses, Again

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More than three years ago, George Bush unleashed the dogs of war on Iraq, perhaps hoping that he would take his place among the “great” war presidents. It’s strange how these guys imagine themselves written about in history books in the manner of Washington, Lincoln, and FDR, rather than Truman, Johnson, and Nixon. It’s been more than 50 years since war immortalized a president, and yet they keep trying.

The dogs of war didn’t build freedom and democracy in Iraq, or bring justice or peace. Rather, they came right back and ravaged the Republican Party in the election of 2006. This election has probably sealed Bush’s place in history as a failed war president who used a period of national anxiety about terrorism for his own personal aggrandizement and the enrichment of his coterie.

That wasn’t part of the plan.

The loss of the House and perhaps the Senate is all the more extraordinary considering that the failed (no longer any dispute about that) war on Iraq was the decisive issue at every level.

Think about this. We’ve grown accustomed to believing that economic interest alone dictates voter habits. From that point of view, voters have little to complain about on the surface. Unemployment is low, stocks are up, inflation is mixed but under control, and growth is not brilliant but creditable. The Iraq War is in the news constantly but it has little impact on most American voters. The draft is threatened but not likely. The war debt is high but hidden.

What do regular Americans care whether we were lied into war or that Iraq suffers under military occupation that is driving the country into the hands of fanatical Islamic theocrats?

Well, apparently many voters do care, even those who don’t have family members fighting and dying.

Many people voted based on what might otherwise seem to be an abstraction. Bush undertook this war with arrogance and claims of god-like power. The result has been catastrophic. And apparently this amazing failure of government had an impact on the vote.

How very 19th century! How very extraordinary! It seems that a certain impulse toward idealism still can make the margin of difference. It’s not only about economic interest. Issues of peace and justice and truthfulness really do matter, even now. Ideas and not interests alone can still change the course of history, even in an age of cynical democracy in which buying and selling votes is said to be what matters.

That’s the good news. The bad news is that the party that has failed has also taken down some good ideas, among which is that vast increases in the minimum wage are bad for working people. The Republicans campaigned against the many ballot initiatives raising the minimum wage. Six states approved increases in the minimum wage. None of the increases will be devastating to the economies of these states, since they are still low in real terms. But one can only be aghast at the economic ignorance behind such ballots, which are pushed by unionized, high-wage workers precisely to block low-wage workers from entering into job competition.

I suppose we should be glad that these are taking place on the state level instead of nationwide. That’s some consolation. But they might also be harbingers of the essential struggle to come: whether the economy ought to be controlled and regimented or be permitted to be governed by free-market exchange alone. These are the sorts of debates a normal country has. With war out of the picture, who can’t but welcome such a debate?

As bad as these socialistic ideas are, Republican economic interventions such as Sarbanes-Oxley are to some degree worse than a minimum-wage increase. And consider too the Republican Medicare expansions. Who would you rather have ruling you? Social democrats or fascists?

It’s a pathetic fact that the Republican Party squandered yet another opportunity to make a difference for the good in this country. They forever promise freedom but forever deliver despotism. They might have shrunk government, really cut taxes, balanced the budget, reformed money, freed up trade, or decentralized government. Instead, they threw it all away to defend an indefensible war.

If the Democrats inch us closer to socialism at home, the Republicans must share in the blame for having attempted socialist-style planning on the international level, and more welfare and economic controls at home, not to mention an expansion of the police state.

Let there be no more talk of the good guys and bad guys in the mainstream of American political life. The state in all its forms is the enemy, and both parties are part of the problem.

You think it can’t happen? That there are too many interest groups dedicated to the permanence of power and planning? The election of 2006 shows that short-term economic interests alone do not always dictate the political future.

Llewellyn H. Rockwell, Jr. [send him mail] is president of the Ludwig von Mises Institute in Auburn, Alabama, editor of LewRockwell.com, and author of Speaking of Liberty.

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