I remember writing in my journal in November 1994 that I thought I would never live to see conservative principles rewarded with victory on a nationwide basis in a non-Presidential election year, but as the spirit of the Contract with America swept the Gingrich-led revolution to Republican control of the House and Senate that year, one had the feeling that the 73 House freshmen who came to Washington in January 1995 would form the leadership core to sustain a long-term transformation of guiding principles—viva la revolution! Well, it lasted twelve years, or at least it hung on for that long, since the cracks have been in evidence for quite some time. Now, in the immediate aftermath of this election, one wonders whether the Republicans have completely undermined the revolution or if this is a one-time blip induced by mismanagement of a controversial war. I think it is a lot of the latter, but could also be much of the former, and the answer to the question of whether or not the spirit of ’94 can be restored will depend on how quickly the party can regain its soul and its Reagan roots. There is considerable evidence in the voting patterns that the country hasn’t abandoned its essential conservatism, but the Republican leadership certainly has. As Dick Armey has often said, “when we act like us, we win; when we act like them, we lose.”
Whatever foreign policy adjustments follow from the mid-term election results, one thing is abundantly clear to me—between now and 2008 it’s time for a long and serious conversation among adults about the Long War. In fact, despite the considerable downside to the prospects for Democrat control of Congress, the configuration of a Bush White House and a Democratic Congress just might be more conducive to the seriousness of the debate. For the fact is that Bush himself has become so much of the issue that reasonable perspective among the leaders of the “loyal opposition” and their rabid left wing, anti-Bush chorus has become almost impossible. With Democrats in charge of the legislative branch, they can no longer hide behind their nay-saying, anti-Bush rhetoric and maybe some maturity and responsibility will emerge.Opinion from several for whose judgment I respect is now beginning to evolve along the lines that the situation in Iraq is so intractable that new definitions of success must be openly considered.
Charles Kesler believes that anti-Bush attitudes among Democratic leaders render them incapable of dealing with his administration in good faith and that the entire debate must be carried by the 2008 Presidential contenders. Steve Forbes is convinced that the only way Iraq can be held together without a tyrant is by establishing Swiss-style autonomous regions for Kurds, Shiites, and Sunnis, somewhat like our federal system. Charles Krauthammer says that we should make it clear to the Iraqis that we have done all we can do to deliver them the opportunity to have a democratic order under the rule of law and it’s now up to them to step up and take it. And David Brooks says that it’s time to adjust our plans to reality—that the country is an exercise in futility, always has been, likely always will be, and he cites the history to support this contention. Finally, and most visionary, Newt Gingrich has a step-by-step plan for how the President should proceed from here, modeled after the strategy that Abraham Lincoln chose in the dark days of 1862 when it became clear that the only viable choice for the Union was total victory.
At this point, as an approach to revised strategy, I am proceeding cafeteria-style, selecting a little from all of the above, leaning heavily toward the Gingrich plan, without the pessimism of Brooks and without abandoning the flavor of Bush’s idealistic theme and sponsorship of the universality of freedom as a means of planting some semblance of democracy in the Arab Middle East, both as a foundation for lifting the region out of oppression and into modernity and as a sound investment in American security.
The President may have already sent a significant signal of strategy change to come with his replacement of Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld with Robert Gates. Gates is no doubt a good man and very capable, but his reputation is very pragmatic and non-ideological, and I wonder if this change is a precursor to a move toward more war policy realism in the James Baker/Brent Scrowcroft vein. Watch closely for any policy concessions in the administration response to the report of the Baker/Hamilton Iraq study group (on which Gates is serving) as well as the Gates confirmation hearings in the Senate. I’m wary.
Of two things I remain absolutely convinced—that Iraq was at the outset and still is a major front in the Long War against Islamofacism and that any strategy that even closely resembles retreat would be a disaster for America and the West. As Tony Blair so well stated in his farewell speech to his party, “We will not win until we shake ourselves free of the wretched capitulation to the propaganda of the enemy—that somehow we are the ones responsible. This isn’t our fault, we didn’t cause it, and it’s not the consequence of foreign policy. It’s an attack on our way of life and it’s global……If we retreat now, we won’t be safer, we will be committing a craven act of surrender that will put our future security in the deepest peril.”
A recent poll conducted by Opinion Research Corp. on behalf of CNN shows that 67% of those surveyed say that federal judges and the decisions they make should not be subject to more control by politicians. I haven’t seen the phrasing of the question, and this is often crucial with polling, but to the extent it was not biased and that the respondents understood the meaning of “control”, we have an obvious conflict here, not only with the intent of the Founders, but with the written words of the Constitution itself in Article III, Section 2, which gives Congress the authority to establish rules for federal appellate jurisdiction. Former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor had previously weighed in with an opinion essay complaining about attempts to discipline judges, as with the South Dakota ballot initiative called a “judicial accountability initiative law” and efforts by Congress to “police” the judiciary, and she worries that these and other activities might serve to damage the independence of the judiciary and/or intimidate judges. In a subsequent interview with CNN she laments, “As I went through the last few years of service here at the court, I saw increasing indications of unhappiness with judges.”Justice O’Connor may have justification for her concern, but she shouldn’t be at a loss for the reasons for the unhappiness with judges. In a response to her essay, retired Fifth Circuit Court Judge Charles Pickering has it pegged: “Some in America today seek to win in a court of law that which they cannot win in the court of public opinion, at the ballot box. Americans do not want “sympathetic” judges, they want impartial ones…..justices are now asserting that they have the power to exercise their independent judgment to determine the “sense of decency” of modern, evolving society….the thought process for political, not judicial decisions”. The end result of the judicial overreach described by Judge Pickering is the removal of many of our “wedge” issues from their proper home in the give and take of the democratic process, however messy it might be, producing an environment that is largely responsible for much of the sense of frustration and incivility that prevails in our public policy discourse.
In my current speaking travels on education reform around the state, I am often asked about the purpose of the phrase in our organization’s mission statement that, in addition to college and workplace readiness, our high schools should produce graduates fully prepared for “responsible citizenship”. In a recent research report commissioned by the Intercollegiate Studies Institute entitled “The Coming Crisis in Citizenship”, the explanation should be very clear. Called the largest statistically valid survey ever conducted to determine what our colleges and universities are teaching their students about America’s history and institutions, the results are not only that these institutions are failing to increase knowledge about these basics, but that the most prestigious of our colleges are often at the low end of the “value added” scale on them. So you ask, what does this have to do with our high schools? Here’s what: as bad as our higher education institutions are in adding value, the base knowledge from which entering freshmen begin is even more embarrassing. On 60 questions asked of entering college freshmen and seniors in four subject areas—history, government, world affairs, and the market economy—the average of the freshmen scores was an appalling 52%! So the fact that higher education added an average of only 1.5% over the next four years (to 53.5%) is terrible, but it is clear that the cultivation of civic literacy, the foundation of responsible citizenship, must begin much earlier if we are to have any hope of sustaining a free republic.