"Stay the Course":

E.J. Dionne writes in the Washington Post today, "First Step? Admit There's a Problem." He writes:

History repeats itself in strange ways. Consider two statements.

"A slogan like 'stay the course' is unacceptable."

And: "Stay the course is not a policy."

The first quotation goes back to October 1982, when a Republican candidate for governor of New York named Lewis Lehrman complained about his party's national slogan during that year's midterm elections. Stay the course, insisted Lehrman, who eventually lost narrowly to Democrat Mario Cuomo, was a lousy theme in the face of a 10 percent national unemployment rate.

The second quotation is of more recent, though still Republican, coinage. Last Sunday, Sen. Chuck Hagel of Nebraska laid into the Bush administration's policy in Iraq. Hagel insisted that remaining in Iraq over an extended period -- staying the course -- "would bog us down, it would further destabilize the Middle East, it would give Iran more influence."

The problem with Dionne's argument, of course, is that with respect to 1982, history has shown Reagan was right and Lehrman was wrong on the wisdom of the "stay the course" strategy, as the short-term pain of the severe 1982 recession created the economic conditions for a long-term boom. At the very least, Dionne seems to be mixing apples and oranges--Lehrman seems to be criticizing Reagan's rhetoric (the "slogan" of "stay the course") more than the policy, whereas Hagel is criticizing the substantive policy decision.

This is not to say anything about whether "Stay the course" is the right or wrong policy in Iraq, it is simply to say that the substance of the Lehrman example seems to support exactly the opposite of the point Dionne intends.