Rather, this election has ignored almost all ideology and become a narrative about issues of scandal and incompetence. Most of all, it is about an Iraq invasion that almost everyone voted for (from both parties), but no one in the Administration bothered to think through in advance. ~David Freddoso

I am starting to develop a bad habit of disagreeing with Mr. Freddoso.  I have read on several occasions the claims that the election will not be a mandate for liberalism or against conservatism, and I think these claims are right.  That it is a non-ideological election or an election in which there is not a repudiation of some kind of ideology is something I find harder to believe.  If the invasion of Iraq is the chief reason for the GOP’s woes today, and there is every reason to think so, repudiating the administration on Iraq has as much to do with repudiating the ideologues who sold the war as necessary and just and claimed that it was the beginning of the political transformation of the Near East for the better.  There was a deeply flawed, anti-conservative theory about the nature of man and society that informed much of the intellectual support for the war, and we know it by the name of neoconservatism. 

It may suit a lot of people to let the responsibility of these ideologues slip by amid the cacophony of recriminations against the criminally negligent administration, but they should not be allowed to escape accountability for what they urged the government to do and what they worked overtime to make happen.  If Iraq had been a glorious success, they would have reaped the glory, as I suppose would be fair, but since it has been the catastrophe that certain other people always said it would probably be that ought to bring shame upon them and disrepute upon their ideology.  So if the electorate repudiates the GOP this year, they will be in no small part repudiating the theory that led to such an abominably bungled war. 

As for the neocon exculpatory claims that they have been in favour of increasing troop levels in Iraq (this is the old, “blame the actors, not the writer” excuse), this is a very nice way for them to cover over the reality that they provided the preposterous assumptions about Iraqi civil society, the universality of freedom and the universal applicability of democracy that served as the working post-war plan: show up, hand over power to the free, flower-throwing Jeffersonian Shi’ites (Woolsey, from whom we do not hear much anymore, once wrote an op-ed in the WSJ in the months before the invasion making the astonishing argument that because of their religious narrative of persecution and marginalisation that the Shi’ites were naturally inclined to democratic ideas!) and be on our way.  A thousand little platoons would bloom in the desert, and they would not be hung up by loyalties to “tribe or religion or whatever.”  Only a condescending racist could think so “poorly” of Iraqis.  Yeah, well “tribe or religion or whatever” proved a little more resilient than their condescending attitudes allowed for, and now Iraq and our soldiers pay the price.  So if there is one ideology directly implicated in the failure of Iraq, and thus in GOP failure November 7, it must be neoconservatism.  They can try to shuffle out of view and blame the administration for failure to execute the brilliant idea correctly, but their failures as public intellectuals, so called, are a matter of record and are at least partly responsible for the travails of the GOP.

That brings me to the other problem about this claim on Iraq.  I don’t know what it can mean that “almost everyone voted for (from both parties)” the Iraq war or, more technically, the resolution giving the President authorisation to resolve the Iraq situation as he deemed appropriate.  Almost everyone in the GOP voted for it.  There was one antiwar GOP Senator, Lincoln Chafee, and six House members were also opposed (their names shall be remembered with honour: Paul, Leach, Hostettler, Duncan, Barrett, Houghton).  As a percentage of the entire GOP caucus in either chamber, their dissent was barely noticeable (though I applaud them for it).  On the Democratic side, far more than half of House Democrats (126) voted against the Iraq war resolution, and 21 Democratic Senators, just under half of their Senate membership, voted against it.  If a minority of Democrats in the House and a bare majority in the Senate counts as “almost everybody,” the phrase doesn’t really mean very much.  If 30% of the House and almost a quarter of the Senate voted nay, it is simply untrue that “almost everybody” supported the war.  This is a fairy tale that war supporters tell their children so that they can all take comfort in this nonexistent national consensus (just as people who bought into the WMD stories take comfort in the nonexistent universal consensus that Iraq possessed such weapons programs after 1998) and pretend that it was an “intelligence-gathering failure” rather than a failure of their own discernment. 

The bitter reality for war supporters on the right is that the Dennis Kuciniches, Sherrod Browns and, yes, even the Barack Obamas of the world were right on Iraq and almost every Republican on record was wrong.  That’s a sobering thought, isn’t it?  Even if these Democrats were just “lucky” and are actually reflexively opposed to the projection of U.S. power under any circumstances (thus invoking the “even a broken clock is right twice a day” riposte), their caution and reluctance to support the invasion have been vindicated.  The near-unanimity on the other side now appears deeply misguided.  We can all tell ourselves stories about what this election means, but one thing we cannot allow ourselves to believe is that “almost everybody” from both parties supported this war.  Say whatever else you like about them and their reasons for opposing it, some of which may not have been the right reasons or even good reasons, but if invading Iraq was a mistake–as a majority now (rightly) believes–the party that almost unanimously backed that war ends up looking a lot worse than the party that had a majority of its elected members in Congress oppose it. 

In the context of an election season, it is therefore not surprising that those who favour the former party whose members of Congress supported the war in overwhelming numbers would make claims that try to obscure the contrast between its national elected members when they got a fundamental question so profoundly wrong and the opposition that resisted the drive for war in significant numbers.  Among voters, there was even less agreement about the importance or necessity of the invasion across the spectrum.  Many conservative voters went along with it because their blood was still hot from 9/11, they believed Mr. Bush’s claims about a threat and they were willing to give him the benefit of the doubt in wartime, but they were never the ones pushing for it or demanding it.  A lot of the conservative apathy or defections you see this year are a product of the disquiet of a lot of people who never really wanted to invade Iraq turning into furious resentment as they come to find their trust in Mr. Bush was, shall we say, misplaced. 

If “almost everybody” from both parties had voted for the war, neither party would have much of a real advantage, even though the administration’s party would still probably bear the brunt of the voters’ outrage, but this is not the way things actually are.  I don’t say this out of any particular enthusiasm for the Democrats themselves, but out of a desire to hold accountable those actually responsible for this debacle and to keep their supporters from obscuring the predominantly Republican origins of this war.  When the war was still fairly popular and not going as terribly, the GOP benefited from this very characteristic of the war and they profited politically from the reality that it was their war.  They had shown the gumption and vision to take the fight to the enemy, and so on, and voters responded well to what they thought was a basically successful, albeit difficult, campaign.  They rolled to victory in their Khaki Elections as a result.  Now it’s come time to pay the piper, and all of a sudden Iraq is a war “almost everybody” from both sides supported.  Nope, sorry, not buying that one.  They do not get to rewrite the story and tell us how “almost everybody” from both sides of the aisle supported the project now that things are starting to go, as Sen. Warner put it, sideways.