Last week, I noted that when I was interviewing former House Republican majority leader Dick Armey for PajamasMedia.com, the retired congressman told me that his Republican pals in Congress might deserve to lose the coming elections for having made the wrong call on Iraq. I did not quote Armey directly on this point; I paraphrased our conversation. And Armey’s office complained to Pajamas about my posting, saying that Armey had expressed no such sentiment. I have reviewed the audio of the entire interview–a video excerpt of which can be viewed here–and below is what he said. You can decide if my “might deserve to lose” formulation fits Armey’s remarks.
Armey noted that “the war in Iraq is the 800-pound gorilla in the room.” He remarked that the war was of “questionable necessity” and “questionable execution.” He added, “As long as Democrats can keep the discussion on Iraq, our party loses ground. That’s why you see Republicans, particularly in Senate campaigns, expressing some different points of view….The war in Iraq, is, I think, the big, big issue of the election.” I reminded Armey that he is quoted in the book I co-wrote with Michael Isikoff, Hubris: The Inside Story of Spin, Scandal, and the Selling of the Iraq War, saying he deeply regretted his vote to give President George W. Bush the authority to launch the war on Iraq. I asked:
Do you still regret that vote today and if so, if people like you, if Republicans voted the wrong way, is it not, according to the rules of the marketplace, a good thing to sort of pay a price now, at least in political terms. Should people hold your party to account for making the wrong vote?
Here’s how Armey replied:
I think it was the wrong vote. I felt it at the time….And yes, if you make a bad vote, in the final analysis, you need to expect to live with it. And to some extent that is happening now–with current officeholders. You might say, “Well, Armey, he dodged the bullet because he made his bad vote and then retired by the time the country woke up to it.” But right now I don’t think very many people seeking office are going to be running around to very many constituents and saying, “You better reelect me because I voted to get us into Iraq.”
Armey went on to say
I’m not clear why we got in here [in Iraq] in the first place. We’re mired down here. It doesn’t seem to me we’re making any progress. I wonder if they’re doing it right and how in the heck are we ever going to get out of it. And then you take a look at that and say, who’s to blame? Well, there’s only one guy to blame, and that’s your commander in chief…I don’t know how you get out of [Iraq]. Sooner or later, there’s going to have to be a decision to get out, probably with some disregard for the consequences.
This is how I read Armey’s remarks: (a) he believes invading Iraq was misguided and that Republican members of Congress should not have voted to hand Bush the authority to launch that war; (b) legislators sometimes have to pay for a “bad vote.” Does that mean he wants the Republicans to be voted out of office? Clearly, not. He hopes that his party–despite this grave mistake–keeps its stranglehold on Congress. And he’s certainly not calling for Bush to resign. But, at the same time, he recognizes that the Republican party’s unabashed and across-the-board support of the Iraq war is indeed legitimate cause for voters to boot it out of power.
Armey’s great passions in life are free-market economics and country and western music. He cannot deny the workings of the political marketplace: you screw up, you ought to be voted out of office. Does that mean he believes the Republicans “might deserve” to lose?
For Hubris, Armey recalled for us a moment in December 2002–two months after he had voted to give Bush the authority to attack Iraq. He was driving along a stretch of Texas highway when a country song came on about a fellow who looked in the mirror and saw a stranger. The line hit him hard. Against his better instincts, he had voted for the war, though he had serious doubts about the intelligence on Iraq’s WMD that had been presented to him personally by Vice President Dick Cheney. Listening to this song, Armey thought that he had become that stranger. He had been untrue to himself. And he was thankful that he was about to retire from the House.
Now it seems that he will have no beef with those voters who on Election Day punish his Republican colleagues for having committed the same mistake he did. Armey might even be able to suggest an appropriate song for his party-mates that day: “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry.”
FOR INFORMATION ON HUBRIS: THE INSIDE STORY OF SPIN, SCANDAL, AND THE SELLING OF THE IRAQ WAR, click here. The New York Times calls Hubris “the most comprehensive account of the White House’s political machinations” and “fascinating reading.” The Washington Post says, “There have been many books about the Iraq war….This one, however, pulls together with unusually shocking clarity the multiple failures of process and statecraft.” Tom Brokaw notes Hubris “is a bold and provocative book that will quickly become an explosive part of the national debate on how we got involved in Iraq.” Hendrik Hertzberg, senior editor of The New Yorker notes, “The selling of Bush’s Iraq debacle is one of the most important–and appalling–stories of the last half-century, and Michael Isikoff and David Corn have reported the hell out of it.” For highlights from Hubris, click here.