Glorious War!

August 31, 2006

Most observers are predicting a rout of the Republicans in this fall’s elections. Some think the Democrats can even recapture both houses of Congress.

I hope so. Oh, how I hope so. May the Republicans perish forever. May vultures gobble their entrails. May their name be blotted out. In short, may they lose their shirts in November.

Yes, I’m disillusioned with the GOP. It was bad enough when I thought they were unprincipled. Now, however, it’s worse, because they do have a principle after all: war.

Two Bush administrations have proved that. War on Panama, war on Iraq, war on “terror,” war on Afghanistan, war on Iraq again, and war on Iran, comin’ up. And of course the recent Israeli war on Lebanon was waged with George W. Bush’s complicity. Am I leaving anything out? Oh yes, his father’s war on “drugs”; but let’s not even count that one.

Next to the violence of war, I hate the philosophical fallout. This Bush administration has managed to pervert the meaning of conservatism: in most Americans’ minds, for the next generation, the word will mean, above all, militarism.

Not that this is wholly new. Goldwater conservatives supported the Vietnam war, originally a liberal project, even complaining that it wasn’t being waged with enough force. They began sneering at “peaceniks,” then equating peace with liberalism (and war with patriotism) and automatically favoring huge military budgets. Lyndon Johnson’s war soon became “Nixon’s war,” and the anti-war George McGovern redefined the Democratic Party.

By the Reagan years the old lines were redrawn. Quite a change from the days when Democrats wanted war on fascism and Republicans were accused of “isolationism” for preferring peace. Does anyone remember Robert Taft?

By identifying the conservative cause with war, the Republicans have given liberalism the finest gift they could possibly have bestowed on it. The popularity of war is intense but brief. Americans will support quick and victorious wars, but after a few months the thrill tends to wear off.

As late as 1976 grouchy Bob Dole, a bitter World War II vet, could still take a swat at “Democrat wars,” but the phrase sounded quaint. The amnesiac American public thought it was a contradiction in terms. When had the Democrats ever wanted war?

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