So spoke Ronald Reagan, and so goes much of the modern Republican Party. The Republicans have been able to get remarkable political mileage out of railing against big government, Washington, government waste, etc. Reagan's formulation was (not surprisingly) the most succinct and catchy way to encapsulate their message.
On the domestic side, the "government is our problem" message translates simply into tax cuts and reductions in discretionary spending. (We'll leave aside the increases in defense spending and accompanying deficits for now. We'll also leave aside George W. Bush's take on Reagan's message, which appears to be "Government is our problem, so let's have more of it for my base and voters in swing states.") Considering only the ideology of "Government is our problem," here's my question:
What are we doing in Iraq?
And here's my answer:
Building a government. Or at least trying to. Or at least we should be trying to.
So here's my next question:
Shouldn't the Democrats be much better at it than the Republicans?
The modern Republican Party, conceived by Goldwater and nutured by Reagan and Gingrich, has no interest in building governments. In their minds' eyes, "government is our problem." It gets in the way. It impeads progress, growth, religious observation, etc. They have been trying to reduce the size of government for forty years (at least). They want to make it, as has been said before, "small enough to fit in your bedroom." Many Republicans have no interest in the whys and wherefores of building (relatively) efficient public insitutions. Or in efficient public management. Or in having government do anything well, except armed defense. Now, I'm not talking about all Republicans or even maybe a majority of the people who voted for Bush. I'm talking about the party faithful, the ideologues, the people who run the GOP. For it is these people whose ideas influence the GOP and the GOP spin machine. Also, it makes more political sense for the Democrats to go after the hardliners than after, you know, reasonable people.
With the ideological foundation described above (and I'd welcome debate as to its accuracy), how can the GOP conceptually direct the building of an Iraqi government? Shouldn't such an effort be at odds with their underlying philosophy? Shouldn't the cognative dissonance be overwhelming? Maybe it is, and maybe that's why Bush's post-war plan has been non-existent. Can the GOP even conceive of building a government? One that works? One of the most fundamental things about governments is that they collect taxes from their citizens. It may be considered the most fundamental thing a government does. Not the most fair, necessarily, but the most fundamental. Otherwise, how does a government function? Even conservatives should concede this premise, because it is the foundation of their attacks on government per se: that it exists only to collect taxes. So, isn't the postwar effort in Iraq going to necessitate raising taxes on the Iraqi people? Clearly, I wouldn't put it that way, but the GOP might. And maybe that's why the GOP isn't fit to rebuild Iraq. They don't build governments. They only knock them down.
Can't the Democrats take political advantage of this? Can't they say that the Dems are better positioned to rebuild Iraq because we are in the business of building governments? The tax issue could cut both ways, but I think the security concerns may win out. This is a way for the Dems to get serious on Iraq, to propose a plan, and to watch the GOP hardliners try to explain the difference between government here and government there. If government is our problem, then why are we trying to establish a problem in Iraq?