12/18/2011 09:55 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Both Sides Now : Iraq -- End of an Error

By Mark Green

It's been a challenging week for the GOP: Independents by 53% to 33% believe Republicans to be more extreme than Democrats (Pew); and Americans by 64% to 33% don't think the Iraq War worth it (CBS). Hooked on Fox and obsessed with Obama, there is no clear story line: while conservative candidates flip-flop, conservative commentators condemn Gingrich, with Buckley's National Review warning against "a hasty marriage... they'll regret." Newt, regretting marriage?
That one's gotta hurt.

Mary Matalin and Ron Reagan debate Iowa and Iraq as Republican voters like Newt's brashness more than Republican poohbahs. Will Mitt-Newt go through the spring and become one of the great rivalries -- Yankees-Red Sox, Barack-Clinton -- or fizzle out as someone else rises up the middle? (To listen to the radio show, click below.)

*On Romney vs Gingrich. Like Winter Olympics speed skating when rivals stay in a pack until there's a frantic burst at the end, Romney and Gingrich have been throwing elbows as they approach the Iowa finish line.

Ron thinks that Mitt's assault on Newt as a "unreliable... bomb-thrower" -- e.g., Palestinians as an "invented people", child labor instead of janitors, subpoenaing "dictatorial" judges -- has been adept and successful. Mary believes that the opposition of both Gingrich's former Hill colleagues and conservative pundits (Will, Podhoretz, Gerson, Noonan, Brooks, Washington Examiner, American Spectator... ) is telling. His outspokenness "was a strength in the past [but] he doesn't always know how to calibrate it now." She also concurs that ads attacking Gingrich as a K Street buck-raking from the villainous Freddie Mac money have hit an Achilles Heel.

What about Gingrich's OWS-like rebuttal that Romney is a Wall Street guy? Both think that Romney's business success is a plus among Republicans. Mary adds that his personal frugality strikes a positive chord, while Ron jokes that "he's frugal in a very, very rich kind of way... Nobody really likes Mitt Romney." Mary concedes that "he's something of a dork but he should embrace his dorkiness as an endearing trait."

*On a 'Right-wing and a Prayer'. We listen to President Obama on 60 Minutes observe that it doesn't really matter who he runs against since the nominee will have an ideology sharply at odds with his. Is he right to seem to be eager to run against a party more extreme than mainstream, as argued by ex-Bush speechwriter David Frum in his controversial New York Magazine article.

No consensus here. Mr. Reagan forcefully argues that the GOP since the 1960s has pursued a divisive "race-based Southern Strategy, which has now expanded into an ignorance-based strategy", citing the influence of Fox for dumbing down listeners and voters. Ms. Matalin as robustly counters that "Frum is no conservative and Republicans are the party not of ignorance but of success," noting that Democratic members of Congress are the ones making dumb comments.

What about the two recent examples of Rick Santorum saying that Obamacare reminds him of "Mussolini's Italy" and Perry's ad asserting that Obama is anti-religion? Mary explains that neither comment will affect the nominee next fall, that Perry is appealing to Caucus evangelicals rather than general election swing voters and Democrats also "preach to their choir." Ron hits hard: it may have political appeal in Iowa "but it's simply not true" that Obama is anti-religion or anti-prayer since "anyone can pray anytime they want, just not in an organized fashion in public schools."

(Ed. Note: since the show's taping, Obama has chided the Republican "lurch into extremes"; Ann Coulter, whose last book had the title Demonic, has attacked Gingrich's comments about judges as "outrageous... bellicose"; Gingrich said that the police could arrest "activist judges".)

*A Cost-Benefit Analysis on Iraq. We listen to Bush declaring war in March of 2003, Obama welcoming troops home in December 2011 -- and McCain and Cheney reproaching the president for pulling all combat troops out now. But was nine years not enough? How do we fight for a democracy and then ignore that sovereign government when it asks us to leave? Since we do cost-benefit analyses of proposed regs, why not a cost-benefit after-report on war?

In a role reversal, Ron is asked only about the benefits of that war -- and Mary about only the costs. There's agreement that it's good Hussein is gone, that there's a nascent democracy there, that Iraq is not in a position to restart its WMD programs. But: while the cost of the war in lives and treasure is "incalculable" (Mary), it is measureable: 4,500 American lives; over 32,000 military casualties; over 150,000 Iraqi civilians killed, 300,000 Americans with PTSD, and a trillion dollars spent. Then there's also the rise of Iran in Iraq and, Mary laments, the loss of "an honest dialogue on foreign affairs [in America]."

But there's sharp disagreement about whether Abu Ghraib/Guantanamo/torture spurred more Islamic jihadists and diminished America's moral around the world. Mary agues that many in the Muslim world already hated America (see 9/11) while Ron concludes that it's hard for America to regain its reputation after violating our tradition against torture.

Also: of the Romney-Obama exchange -- "appeasement"... "ask bin Laden" -- Ron thinks that Obama easily got the best of his critic although Mary says it shows how "thin-skinned" Obama can be.

And: Reagan shares the previously unheard story that "I called the president in late 1988 suggesting that America go to the UN to establish a coalition to remove Hussein since he had committed genocide on his people in the north... but it was explained to me that Hussein was a bulwark against Iran."

*Quick Takes: Phoning, Marrying, Junk-fooding, Debating: First, with over 3,000 deaths attributed to texting/calling while driving, there's a split decision on the proposed NTSB ban: Ron says yes though it's probably unenforceable; May says no because of unenforceability, though hopes that a 10-fold increase in penalties might work.

Second, the decline of Americans married from ¾ to ½ since 1960 traces to how hard it is to stay married and delays in the age of marriage. The result, worries Mary, is that the kids won't be alright.

Third, when the Seattle School District replaced junk food with healthier fare, revenues needed for after-school programs and clubs fell 80%. Should the school district reverse itself? Mary thinks so, preferring individual choice to nannyism. Ron wants to maintain the policy of "favoring granola over potato chips" because everything in a school should be educational.

Last, think of the ratings of an Obama-Gingrich presidential debate! We now know that, in the debates, JFK beat Nixon, Reagan beat Carter, and Kerry beat Bush. With expectations for two smart and fluent politicians, who would win an Obama-Gingrich Thrilla-in-Manila? Mary thinks it would be an entertaining tie, unless there's an unlikely huge gaffe. Ron agrees that it'd be a sumo wrestling clinch on arguments but, on style, Obama would help himself more because Gingrich comes off as "arrogant and condescending." Mary retorts: you don't but that's how many Americans regard Obama.

Believing is seeing. Hence the show title.

Mark Green is the creator and host of Both Sides Now, which is powered by the American Federation of Teachers.

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