My friend Mark Tapscott reviews a week in which he feels that conservatives won battles on several important fronts. He hails the end of the McCain-Kennedy immigration plan, Supreme Court decisions on race and political speech, and the end to the Fairness Doctrine movement in last night's vote in the House. While Mark is correct to celebrate these events, with one exception they do not really represent victories for conservative governance as much as reprieves from the alternatives:
Winston Churchill once remarked that God takes care of drunks and the United States of America and so it seems to be as we approach the end of a remarkable week in which milestones of success for the conservative movement have come one after another.
I must confess I didn't expect a week such as this. Between Bush's various expansions of Big Government, the GOP congressional majority throwing away of its position and the desperately blind opposition of the Washington Establishment to earmark and other common sense reforms, I was mulling a post asking if the time had come to declare the conservative enterprise a failure.
Yet, we have just been blessed with three signal victories.
I've learned two lessons in life that help keep me sane. Events are rarely as bad as they seem, nor are they as good as they look. Had Mark written that column on the death of the conservative movement, I would have advised him with the former -- and now I'll have to invoke the latter instead.
While all of these events rightly please conservatives, we have to be congnizant that we haven't really won any battles for conservatism in them. All of them amount to little more than significant holding actions against statist policies. None of them represent a victory for conservative policies, because conservative policies haven't been applied in most of the cases.
This is most true for immigration. Before the bill's defeat, we had a bipartisan effort to ignore the border and visa system. The bill's failure acts to extend that. That's not a victory for conservatism. Conservatives will win when they force the federal government to secure the borders and fix the broken visa system. In other words, we haven't enacted any policy at all at this point; how can that be victory?
The two Supreme Court decisions also fall into this same status. The BCRA remains in force, along with at least some of the restrictions on political speech. Racial preferences may have suffered a body blow, but we still have not succeeded in pushing market-based solutions to resolve the vestiges of the government failures to enforce the 14th Amendment for 100 years. I agree that these represent opportunities for conservative action to implement positive policies and solutions, but that's all they represent -- opportunities, not victories in and of themselves.
The single exception was the Pence amendment barring implementation of a new Fairness Doctrine by the FCC. That represented a legislative success against statism and the curtailing of free speech It's a victory for conservative policy, not just a barricade to leftist overreach, although it was that, too. It used the representative process to show that conservatism is the best defense of personal liberty -- and when properly introduced, has a wide range of support. Over 110 Democrats voted for the Pence amendment.
We need to focus on real victory, which comes when conservative policies get adopted and succeed. If we want to celebrate the Supreme Court decision striking racial preferences, we should do so by introducing policies that positively counter the remaining effects of official government racism. If we celebrate the demise of the immigration bill, we need to ensure that we do something to secure the borders and fix the visa system.
We had a good week, but it's way too early to pop the champagne corks.
UPDATE: Another good friend in the blogosphere, Bruce Kesler, tries to bridge the gap:
Mark is correct to point at the Internet as an embodiment of that civic discussion, serving to remind otherwise imperious legislators. Ed is correct to bemoan the extent of intrusion into our daily affairs by such legislators and seek their reversal.
Mark and Ed are invaluable resources in those struggles. Both, however, miss that it is process that matters more than results. Rich Lowry, of National Review, reminds us that, “Now, there is really no such thing as an "inside game" anymore, since bloggers make sure it gets "outside." Both the right and the left will take advantage of this, for good and ill policy ends. But it's clearly an enhancement of democracy.”
I don't think process matters more than results; I think both are important, but in order to truly see conservatism ascendant, we have to produce positive results with the process. Otherwise, we have New Math, which as Tom Lehrer delightfully skewers in his song of the same name, getting the right answer matters less than understanding the process. Here's the Professor at his mathematical best, animated and lip-synched brilliantly by RonfarZ3 and Benjamin Z W at YouTube:
Here's another by Phasmidan which is pretty clever as well: