The party that brought us “freedom fries”, the war in Iraq and the prospect of financial ruin fields a crop of candidates who promise more of the same, claiming patriotic and moral leadership and insisting only they can build a robust economy and a strong national defense.  Republican frontrunners shore up their base and hope to entice the general electorate to embrace policies of the past by calling their blind-side advocacy – – change.

In his new TV commercial, for example, John McCain trots out yesterday’s mantra – – keep taxes low, protect the homeland, cut spending, a rehash of old ideas from an old warrior who offers nothing new other than a promise to clean up the mess in Washington by tweaking things a bit and whose closing line in the commercial is that he will be ready to assume the presidency on “day one”. If that tag line sounds familiar it’s because it comes straight out of the Hillary Clinton playbook. Plagiarizing from the person who could be one’s opponent in November isn’t the mark of a man of ideas ready to assume leadership in a complex 21st-century world.

In fact the Republican field offers a severely limited, overly simplistic, one-note sense of things – – cutting taxes is all there is to sound economic policy and beefing up the military is the only way to make the country and the world safe from Islamic Fascists. Mike Huckabee promises to get rid of the IRS and institute a national sales tax of 23%. But for those folks who earn too little to pay income taxes, and perhaps for many others as well, that particular solution to the complexities of the current tax system might prove burdensome. And with respect to defense priorities it defies logic to fund expensive weapons systems when we seem to be fighting ground wars with foot soldiers.

In a general sense what was old is suddenly new. McCain’s support of “the surge” is made to seem prescient because overall US casualties are down in Iraq, even as Afghanistan slips into disorder and a return to tribal and terrorist violence. And despite some progress with an increased troop presence, Iraq is far from pacified nor is its government on a path to normalized relations with all of its people many of whom remain out of country, unable to return to their homes. Baghdad is a series of truncated neighborhoods and if indigenous army and police contingents show some signs of developing their own security forces they have yet to establish the degree of professionalism that would ensure stability. Is that to be the forever responsibility of the United States, our eternal foreign policy mandate?

Conservatives accuse Democrats of being willing to accept defeat in Iraq, while McCain maintains it isn’t our presence there that concerns most Americans but the casualties incurred by our troops and, even if things continue to ‘go well’, we could have permanent bases and military forces in Iraq ad infinitum. His example that US troops remain in Japan, Germany and Korea to this day is a non sequitur since, in those instances, conflict ended, agreements were signed, and the internal workings of those societies were strikingly different from Iraq’s manufactured national construct.

Despite McCain’s assertion, about human casualties the American people understand as well the terrible drain the war has been on our treasury. And there is a growing sense that the reason for invading Iraq wasn’t formulated around sound estimates of the available intelligence but was promoted by ideologues in the Bush administration whose personal agendas led to the terrible dilemma we are now forced to confront. Disturbingly, one of the original neo-con war urgers, Paul Wolfowitz, is back at the State Department after his less-than-stellar performance at the World Bank – – a depressing sign that this president and his supporters plan to continue their flawed and destructive policies.

The Bush administration must never be excused for using trumped-up evidence that took us to war and has cost so many lives. It would be far better if, instead of defending  the administration’s bad decisions, apologists dropped that posture, admitted an awful mistake, considered our current position and tried, as Barack Obama suggests, to be ‘more careful about leaving Iraq than we were about going in.’

There should be no mistaking the fact that the Republican base continues to support this president as do its current front runners. Change isn’t just a word; it isn’t just about putting a different face in the White House. It is about actually changing the mindset of the leadership in Washington.