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Rough start 

Milligan off to rocky start

Dennis Milligan, the Bryant businessman who’s the new chairman of the Arkansas Republican Party, is off to a rocky start.

He began with distrust in his own ranks. In early interviews, he emphasized a desire to focus the party on fiscal issues — cutting taxes, making government more efficient. These were code words. He, and other Republicans, think the party isn’t going to expand its reach in Arkansas unless it can be seen as something more than a small circus tent of Northwest Arkansas zealots, consumed with outlawing abortion, oppressing gay people and turning immigrants away.

His “moderation” drew a predictable attack from the Jim Holt wing of the Republican Party. Milligan didn’t exactly stand tall. He quickly proclaimed that he abhors homosexuality and gay union just as much as the good Shiite Republicans do. On immigration, he ducked. He said, according to an interview published Sunday in the Democrat-Gazette, that immigration was an issue between Congress and the president. (In today’s Republican Party, this might pass for courage. At least he didn’t cater to the wall-builders.)

But the Sunday interview in the Democrat-Gazette earned Milligan instant national blog and cable TV notoriety on another issue. He said, according to the article, that he’s “150 percent” behind Bush on the war in Iraq. Then he said:

“At the end of the day, I believe fully the president is doing the right thing, and I think all we need is some attacks on American soil like we had on [Sept. 11, 2001], and the naysayers will come around very quickly to appreciate not only the commitment for President Bush, but the sacrifice that has been made by men and women to protect this country.”

We “need” another U.S. attack to appreciate the war in Iraq? Milligan defenders say he merely misspoke, that he meant something else. Perhaps. Charitably, let’s assume he was being only stupid, not crassly political. He still earns no credit for what his defenders THINK he was trying to say.

Suppose Milligan meant to say the country had been spared terrorist attacks because of the invasion of Iraq. Suppose he meant the war provides continuing insurance. He’s misguided. Plotters continue to probe the country for weaknesses. Arrests in a plot to blow up a New York airport were made just last weekend. There’s abundant evidence, not just in Iraq, that the war has made the world a far more dangerous place for Americans. It has clearly diminished our standing among even our strongest admirers.

Another terrorist attack in the U.S. would achieve a result precisely opposite that which Milligan envisions. Still more people would conclude that Bush’s war was a terrible idea, poorly executed. Another attack would be still more proof of the futility of pre-emptive war as a tool of peace.

Milligan would do best to stick to fiscal issues. But he’ll need a little fine-tuning there, too. His call for more state tax cuts rings hollow after the gigantic tax cut pushed through by the Democratic governor and legislature. His call for more highway construction is an apple-pie/motherhood idea — until he’s forced to talk about which taxes he’d raise to do the work. He wants government to spend more efficiently on education. If that’s so, which inefficient school districts would he close and which athletic powerhouses does he propose to pare down?

Welcome to the arena, Mr. Milligan.

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