Mitt Romney's Underwear --- Plus Antiwar Groupthink
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Bill Clinton was asked whether he wore boxers or briefs. Now I want to know if Mitt Romney always wears his secret Mormon underwear. Have you ever seen the tell-tale underwear line that all Mormons look for in other Mormons?
-- A curious non-Mormon
Dear Curious Non-Mormon,
I hope we never know the answer to your question. Whether Mormons opt to wear the traditional "temple garment" under their clothing, symbolizing their covenant with God, is a personal issue, and I don't think it ceases being a personal issue when you run for president. And no, I don't think the "boxers or briefs" question put to Bill Clinton when he ran for president deepened our understanding of him or his candidacy.
Of course, Mitt Romney was dealing with more profound questions yesterday in his speech on the role of religion in American life. Romney's burden is that many secular-minded Americans are suspicious that he may be too religious, and many religious-minded Americans, especially evangelicals, are suspicious of his religion.
So how did Romney do yesterday? Since you asked? I think he did exactly what he had to do -- no more and no less. Much like John F. Kennedy in 1960, he made clear that as president he wouldn't take orders from his church, whose authority "ends where the affairs of the nation begin." He also stood up for religion generally -- with a passing shot on the supposed war on Christmas -- in trying to make common cause with evangelicals, without quibbling over doctrinal differences.
It would be more satisfying (or merely entertaining?) to watch Romney forcefully take on his religion's critics, but there is little upside for Romney in becoming the national explainer/defender of Mormonism. He is wise to avoid getting into such questions as the true location of the Garden of Eden or, yes, whether he wears the "temple garments."
Conventional wisdom is that Iraq was a debacle, fiasco, really bad, etc., etc. So, what would have happened if we hadn't invaded and deposed Saddam?
P.S. Why do we feel the need to say, "etc., etc." vs. just "etc."?
Your p.s. is most illuminating. I think we say "et cetera" only once when we are saying something original, but we say "et cetera, et cetera" when we are saying something familiar, maybe even too familiar, to the listener or reader. "Etc., etc.," brings to mind a rolling of the eyes, the tiresome, garbled speech of adults in the "Peanuts" series, the "yadda, yadda" of the famous Seinfeld episode, etc. (Or should that be etc., etc.?)
So your use of the double "et cetera" is revealing, as it suggests that all right-minded people have digested the same cant of what Iraq is supposed to have become -- fiasco, quagmire and so on, to a point where it is no longer necessary to spell it out.
On to your first question. The short answer is, I don't know what would have happened if we had stayed out of Iraq. To examine just one plank of the conventional wisdom, Iran is usually cited as a clear winner in Iraq. But it's worth speculating: Would Tehran have stopped working on its nuclear weapons program, as we now know it has, if Saddam were still in power? Conversely, if it was the fall of Saddam that emboldened Iran to be a bigger regional player, do we owe recent hopeful developments, like the Annapolis conference, to a broadening concern over Iran's growing influence?
All I'm saying is that there are plenty of unintended consequences out there. I suspect it will take history a long time to sort them all out, and the picture will be a lot more mixed than the antiwar conventional wisdom suggests.
Look at the transatlantic alliance, for instance. The arrogance of the Bush administration in pursuing this war was supposed to have forever weakened transatlantic solidarity. Yet we now have leaders in both France and Germany who were elected in part to reverse policy and improve ties with Washington.
In terms of domestic politics, it is impossible to divine what might have happened without the Iraq war, in part because it is impossible to divine what would have instead soaked up this administration's energies. Because of where things now stand, I don't think the Iraq war will be the decisive issue in 2008. And in 2004, perhaps, it was too early for it to have been enough of an issue to dislodge Bush (unlike in 2006, when it dislodged the GOP's congressional majority). This leaves me with the unsatisfying conclusion that Iraq may not be the defining issue in any presidential election. That can't be right. Can it? (I'm happy to elucidate this point -- ask me about it!)
P.S. (Which, as we know, are often revealing.) Critics of the war are quick to mock the "groupthink" in Washington that got us involved in this conflict. But today's antiwar "groupthink" can be equally dangerous. Even former President Bill Clinton, who sounded very much like he supported the war at the time we invaded Iraq, is trying to retroactively embrace the antiwar script, preposterously saying he opposed the war all along.
Such a distorting caricature of the underlying issues could make it all the more difficult for a future president to engage in necessary, justifiable military engagements. Certainly, the liberal impulse to engage in humanitarian interventionism, the notion embraced by Tony Blair and Kofi Annan in the aftermath of ethnic cleansing in the Balkans and genocide in Rwanda, must be counted among the most prominent victims of the Iraq war.
Don't get me wrong. An incompetent Bush administration (including Condoleezza Rice, who too often gets a pass in the apportioning of blame) is to blame for mishandling the war. But we shouldn't allow that to cloud the context in which the decision to go to war was made. There is a reason Hillary Clinton voted to allow George Bush to go to war. Staying out was not the no-brainer today's antiwar groupthink would have you believe.
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