It has been a long, hard slog, but Republicans in Congress may finally be coming to terms with the primary reason why they enter the 110th Congress as the minority party rather than the majority.
To paraphrase Bill Clinton’s electoral guru James Carville, who notably reminded his troops back in 1992 that “It’s the economy, stupid,” Republicans may finally be acknowledging that “It was the war, stupid.”
While briefing reporters on Friday prior to the GOP legislators’ annual closed-door winter retreat over the weekend, House Minority Leader John Boehner declared that he now believes his party was tossed out of power largely because of the “people’s view of what was happening in Iraq.”
During the upcoming votes on nonbinding resolutions declaring opposition to President Bush’s plan to increase the number of troops in Iraq for the time being, Boehner said leadership will not whip the rank-and-file to support the president.
“You can’t try to make this a party-loyalty vote,” he said.
That’s progress. Immediately after the election, the consensus among Republicans who survived was summed up by Indiana Rep. Mike Pence, who lamented that “we did not just lose our majority — we lost our way. We are in the wilderness because we walked away from limited-government principles that minted the Republican Congress.”
There’s more than a little truth in that assessment, of course. With a Republican in the White House and Republicans controlling both houses of Congress for the past six years, discretionary domestic spending increased at a faster rate than any time since LBJ’s heady Great Society days, and pork-barrel earmarks became a national joke. No doubt many voters stayed home or voted Democratic in disgust at the hypocrisy of a reputed small-government party expanding government.
But the most important reason for the Republican loss in November was the war in Iraq. Acknowledging this might not necessarily mean voting with the Democrats to condemn the president this week or next. But it should induce some soul-searching about the impulse to intervene forcefully in the affairs of other countries about which we understand too little, and the desirability of supporting or advocating wars of choice rather than necessity.
A consistent advocate of limited government will be more cautious than eager to commit this country to conflict and nation-building overseas, for such commitments always create pressure for more spending and limitations on liberty here at home. Republicans in Congress would do well to understand this better and act on this knowledge in the future.