Josh Marshall wrote yesterday evening about the paradoxical political benefits of GOP congresspeople standing by Bush on Iraq even though the war is hugely unpopular:
As long as that's the case, as long as the vast majority of Republicans oppose Democratic attempts to end the war, that will keep Democrats (not saying it's right, just observing the dynamics) from really going to the mat over it. And as long as Democrats don't force a major confrontation that keeps it all sort of murky in the public mind who's for or against.
Now, Josh thinks this logic will break down eventually, especially because if it does break down "no one wants to be the last one to the door." This is all no doubt true, but I also think it's worth dwelling a bit on the paradox. It seems to me that one of the big lessons -- if not the big lesson -- of the past 15 years worth of legislative politics is that there are huge political benefits to party unity as such. Vote against the Clinton health plan and watch it pass, and you're screwed; but if everyone just stands and opposes it, not only does the plan fail, but the president becomes unpopular because he's a failure who can't solve the big issues.
This sort of thinking turns the traditions of the American system on their head, but I think it will persist into 2009 and beyond since the benefits seem real enough to me.