Blame game

By ADAM REILLY  |  November 15, 2006

Newsweek columnist George Will is more mature in his assessment. While Will reports that the GOP was punished “not for pursuing but for forgetting conservatism,” he doesn’t buy the notion that last week was just another year-six debacle. “[N]ever before has a midterm election so severely repudiated a president for a single policy,” Will says of Iraq.

And how about the reliably conservative editorial pages of the Washington Times and the Wall Street Journal? The Times, too, took solace in the survival of conservatism in a post-election editorial, but then offered a damning assessment of its supposed executors: “The voters have spoken, with a sharp and painful rebuke to the Republican Party for its incompetence and to President Bush for the conduct of the war in Iraq.” Over at the Journal, meanwhile, this was the final verdict: “All told, the Republicans deserved the electoral drubbing they received. Democrats will now have to prove they deserved the majority that GOP failure has handed them.”

Obviously, the conversation is just beginning. But as it plays out, conservatives shouldn’t take too much solace in the survival of a platonic, capital-C Conservatism. After all, one of the great things about political theories is their remarkable resilience: nearly two decades after the collapse of the Soviet Union, Communist true believers still tell themselves that Marx’s vision was never really implemented, after all.

Before conservative readers get all lathered up, let me be clear: I am not likening 2006 to 1989. The point is this: political ideals are only as good as the men and women who execute them. And, as of last week, the Republican Party — conservatism’s supposed practitioners — are discredited and demoralized.

This abject state, in turn, will likely lead to nasty internecine fighting as the GOP tries to right its course. Will John McCain, the party’s presidential front-runner, give up the hawkishness he’s so assiduously cultivated in favor of a more traditionally conservative approach to foreign policy? Will the party’s harshest voices on immigration realize their xenophobia doesn’t fit conservatism’s free-market core? For that matter, if the GOP moves to refocus itself on fiscal discipline and small government, will conservative Christian loyalists accept the marginalization of issues like gay marriage and abortion?

Everyone knows the Democrats were a crazy quilt of disparate groups during their 20th-century heyday, but today’s Republicans aren’t much better. If Democrats keep it simple over the next two years — and convince America that they, and not the Republicans, are the party of good government — the GOP’s long-term future could be much grimmer than its ideological stalwarts want to admit.

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