Ross Douthat tries to draw a useful lesson from the pointless standoff that concluded last night:
So for undeluded conservatives of all persuasions, lessons must be learned. If the party’s populists want to shape and redefine and ultimately remake the party, they can’t pull this kind of stunt again. If the party’s leadership wants to actually lead, whether within the G.O.P. or in the country at large, they can’t let this kind of stunt be pulled again. That’s the only way in which this pointless-seeming exercise could turn out to have some sort of point: If it’s long remembered, by its proponents and their enablers alike, as the utter folly that it was.
This is good advice, and I hope that it is heeded, but the reaction from the “proponents and their enablers” so far has been discouraging to say the least. The leading proponents of the failed strategy remain certain that they did the right thing in the right way, and they believe that any failures along the way must have been someone else’s fault. This is of a piece with the attitude on display over the last few weeks. The message has been: what we’re doing is so vitally important that we must use extraordinary measures to achieve it, but nothing bad can happen as a result of what we’re doing, and anything bad that does happen isn’t our responsibility. If the “proponents and their enablers” disowned responsibility for the consequences of their actions beforehand, or pretended that there couldn’t be any negative consequences, is it likely that they will accept responsibility now? So it probably won’t even be acknowledged as a mistake, much less as utter folly, and so can’t be remembered as such. After all, they will tell themselves that they were abandoned by their leaders, and that is a much more flattering story. As Douthat suggests, that makes the pointless standoff truly pointless, because its failure won’t even serve an instructional purpose.
Movement conservatives of various stripes have become very good over the last ten years at rationalizing defeat, evading responsibility, and denying that obvious blunders were anything of the sort. The embarrassing and inconvenient explanations that found fault with their ideas and goals have been routinely ignored, and the ones that offered ready-made excuses were eagerly embraced. Thus the invasion of Iraq was often treated as a good policy on the right, but one that was just poorly executed. According to this view, the Iraq war wasn’t a pointless debacle, but should be seen as a great success. Similarly, many movement conservatives convinced themselves that the 2006 and 2008 elections weren’t lost because of the Iraq war and the other failings of the Bush administration, but because of “spending” or the selection of a weak nominee. As far as Iraq war hawks were concerned, the debacle there didn’t prove that the basic assumptions behind it were completely wrong, and there has always been tremendous reluctance to admit that the war was a political disaster for the Republicans. Even today, there are still Iraq war dead-enders that believe that the war had been “won” until the U.S. withdrew. The lesson from this seems to be that the most ardent supporters of a policy or a political strategy are least willing to admit their folly when the disaster is undeniable.