In Which I Struggle against the Destructive Tendency to Blame the Voters
I am struggling with the results of last night's elections...and no, not just because I was so spectacularly and completely wrong about what was going to happen. When I heard the news report that according to the exit polls, 70% of the voters said Iraq was very important to them, my first thought was "What's wrong with the other 30 percent?"
Frankly I have a hard time believing that people went to the polls and put in power a political party that is not serious about fighting and winning the war on terror. Part of the reason that I was so far off is that I wanted to believe people could see through the rhetoric of the "cut and run" Murtha-Pelosi-Dean-Kerry crowd and understand the consequences of putting them in power. But blaming the electorate is an unproductive and even destructive tendency. So the way I see it, there are two possible explanations for the results:
First, it is possible that we are not really engaged in an existential struggle with an enemy committed to our destruction. Clearly many people do not see Islamic terrorism as a long-term, virulent threat against our nation and our freedoms. Surely Churchill must have felt the frustration I feel with these folks in the mid-30s as he tried in vain to warn of the consequences of the rise of Hitler.
Second, the Republicans simply failed to make the case that there is such a war going on and/or that they were serious about winning it. This explanation (I believe) better fits the known facts. The President has done a poor job of presenting the need for the war, a poor job proclaiming the progress in the war, and a poor job of laying out the alternatives to victory. He and his political party paid the price.
This explanation further resonates with me because even many Republicans I know are not persuaded. In fact, some intelligent friends of mine (and much better election result predictors!) don't really see any difference between the two parties and don't mind the outcome. And if we failed to make the case to our own party, we can hardly be surprised when the other side didn't see it.
The replacement of Rumsfeld with Gates (yet another retread from Bush 41) is clearly an attempt to signal "message received" whether it began prior to the returns or not. Whether it will help us win the war is an open question.
So that leaves the Republican party a big task...but also a big opportunity. For with the Dems in control of Congress (and they will be--the talk about "too close to call" isn't going to change the results in the end) their ideas will now be competing for acceptance in the marketplace. They will no longer get to argue that anything is better than what we have now without putting forward an agenda of their own. What that agenda is will go a long way to determining if the shift in power if temporary or long-lasting.