As a third-generation Republican, I fear for the fate of my party and the possibility that it may cease to be an effective political force by the end of the next election cycle. Why? Because of its inability to face reality in Iraq.
Whatever one's opinion of the war in Iraq, the American people have made up their minds. As Sen. Richard G. Lugar, the top Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, has observed relative to the future conduct of the war, "There's been an election; Republicans lost the election."
My grandfather became a Republican because he did not care for Franklin Roosevelt's economic policies. He was a second-generation Irish-Catholic who was born in Cincinnati and then settled in St. Louis. As a successful physician, a kind of self-made man as it were, he broke political ranks with his subculture long before the term "Reagan Democrat" was coined.
I laughed heartily with a college classmate who joked that the function of medical schools was to take fine, idealistic young men and turn them into Republicans! As was common in the Midwest, many Irish intermarried with Catholic German-Americans, as did my grandfather in marrying my grandmother. Marrying into a German-American family no doubt contributed to my grandfather's eventual shift to the Republican Party.
German-Americans strongly supported Lincoln, the Republicans and Union. In the election of 1860, only two out of 996 counties in the entire South supported Lincoln: the Missouri counties of St. Louis and Gasconade, two areas heavily settled by German immigrants.
So my family's Republican principles originated in a desire for economic freedom and were reinforced by intermarriage as well as the anti-communism and social conservatism of the Reagan Era.
Despite a fourth generation of my family still voting solidly Republican, I find myself seriously contemplating its demise in the elections of 2008. The major reasons for the thrashing the Republicans received in 2006 were the Iraq war, runaway spending, corruption and scandal.
Who needs Republicans to overspend or to appall citizens with unethical behavior? And the present morass in foreign and military policy is something for which Republicans will be punished severely if Sen. Lugar's matter-of-fact observation is ignored. The Iraq war is a monstrous Death Star looming over the GOP.
Even a cursory review of the relevant polling data indicates that the American public has not signed on for a war of indefinite duration with the purpose of imposing civilized behavior on people with no intention of tolerating the presence of others who are not of their tribe or religious persuasion.
Given the clear message from the electorate in November, it is astounding that the president is advocating "surging" more troops into Baghdad. This is beyond counterintuitive. It is, politically speaking, suicidal in terms of the future prospects of the Republican Party. The next election could see sitting GOP senators in such historically red states as Virginia and New Hampshire go down to defeat.
John Edwards already is referring to the "urge to surge" — a phrase coined by The Economist magazine — as "the McCain doctrine"!
To grasp the precarious situation in which the GOP finds itself, try this thought experiment: What will be the voters' reaction if we surge another 20,000 to 30,000 troops into Iraq, with all the attendant casualties and disruption of families and careers and untold expense, and nothing changes?
And suppose the surge "works"; that is, it temporarily pacifies Baghdad and environs? Is that moment of security and calm — wishful thinking, in my view — going to last? If it does not, will our troops have to return? If they return, will they ever leave?
In matters of war and peace, democracy can be self-correcting. Such a process started in 2006. It could continue, with even greater political consequences, in 2008.
This may be the time for the party of Lincoln to take serious note of the ancient maxim Sic transit gloria mundi — and reconsider its policy in Iraq.