For the last couple weeks, Republican jubilation has been building in force. Scott Brown took over Ted Kennedy's Senate seat! Obamacare went down to crushing and ignominious defeat! Obama didn't seem to notice either of these disasters and, in his State of the Union address, attempted to carry on as before - to the jeers and catcalls of the audience, the disgusted correction of the Supreme Court, and the appalled horror of even some erstwhile supporters in the media.
All things are possible! Republicans are now ascendant! The Republic is saved!
Hogwash. Put down the champagne. Pop the balloons, and turn off the victory fight songs.
Conservatism has won no victories worthy of the name in the last year. In fact, conservatism has won no permanent offensive victories in near ninety years, not since Calvin Coolidge's "Return to Normalcy" after the near-fascistic wartime administration of Woodrow Wilson.
What? Have we not heard of the "Contract with America"? What about George W. Bush, and St. Reagan? Ah yes: they had victories, victories which we needed at the time, but none of which made a permanent difference.
In combat as in politics, there are two kinds of victories: offensive, and defensive.
A defensive victory is when the enemy attacks you, and you drive him back. There have been many great victories of this type throughout the ages: Russia over Napoleon at Moscow, Russia again over Hitler at Stalingrad, England over Hitler in the Battle of Britain. In politics, conservatism has indeed enjoyed victories of this type: We have (we hope) stopped Obamacare, stopped cap-and-trade, stopped the forced unionization of EFCA.
Helpful though defensive victories are, you can't win a war on defense alone. Eventually you must take the battle to the enemy, and win offensive victories in which you take over his land.
Moscow and the Russian winter destroyed Napoleon's armies, but his rule didn't end until the Russians and the rest of Europe pursued the Emperor back home to France and thence to exile in St Helena. Stalingrad stopped Hitler from conquering Russia, but he wasn't defeated until the Red Army crushed his last stand in the streets of Berlin. Winning the Battle of Britain saved England from invasion, but the threat was still clear and present; it stayed that way until D-Day when the Allies started to take territory back from the Nazis.
In contrast, what territory has conservatism ever reconquered from occupying liberals? Has there ever - ever - been a government entitlement program or intrusive bureaucracy that Republicans have succeeded in destroying?
Many years ago, shutting down the Department of Energy, the National Endowment for the Arts, and the Department of Education was part of the Republican party platform. We had eight years of Reagan, the Republican Revolution, the Contract with America, and even a brief Republican hegemony under George W Bush. All these are now history; yet the two DoEs and the NEA remain, there are more government departments now than thirty years ago, and government's share of the domestic economy today exceeds what it was during World War 2.
The only significant conservative inroads into liberal occupied territory that spring to mind are the ending of the welfare entitlement and the creation of school vouchers for Washington, DC inner-city students. Pretty small beer compared to Obamacare, eh?
What's more, it was Democrat Bill Clinton who signed the "end of welfare as we know it" - and now Mr. Obama has ended the end, and we're back where we were with LBJ's Great Society and the welfare queen. Obama also ended the DC vouchers. The conservative victories, such as they were, were tiny and short lived.
Where is a real, true, long-lasting conservative victory? We cannot even eliminate the National Endowment for the Arts, much less seriously enact tort reform. We talk of the importance of federalism and subsidiarity, but our Republican presidents simply extend federal control of schools; they're no more willing to return power and responsibility to local governments than Mr. Obama or Nancy Pelosi.
The Tea Parties have awakened many ordinary Americans to our ever-expanding, ever-encroaching federal government. There are a lot of people who believe that this is the last stand for traditional American values of limited government; if Mr. Obama's agenda were enacted, there'd be no going back.
Indeed there wouldn't be. The trouble is, there never is any going back. Once a new bureaucracy is created, it's there forever.
The only question is how fast it grows - with the speed of the deer under Democrats, and with the speed of the snail under Republicans, but always in the same direction of larger government.
Meanwhile, ordinary Americans get used to the concept of government involvement in every aspect of their lives.
One hundred years ago, Americans would have reached for their shotgun at the very idea that government had any ability to tell them what they could or could not build on their own private property. Today, it's assumed and accepted that permits must be obtained to repaint your house. Permits, for paint! Thomas Jefferson would have run for his torches, tar, and feathers.
It is not possible to solve the problems confronting America today by snipping bureaucracies at the margins. It's far too late for that and our debts far too vast.
We need a Ron Paul or Sarah Palin-style budget - one which fits in one three-ring binder. Envision the Democratic shock: "But... where's the NEA? The DoE, either of them? The... EPA? Where's the rest of it? We're used to having the budget delivered via forklift - I could actually read this thing, it's so small!"
That would be a conservative victory. Until then, there's nothing wrong with raising a faint cheer from the trenches when we repulse an enemy attack, but there's no call for victory parades until after we've proved our willingness and ability to go over the top, fix bayonets, and send the enemy on the run deep into his own territory, while we advance and conquer the field.
Otherwise, come the next defeat, conservatives will once again be pushed back.
And we are running out of territory into which we can retreat.