Three developments during the past week illustrate this process -- developments, not results, because each is part of an ongoing struggle that will not be resolved soon.
The first was Tuesday's election for the Wisconsin Supreme Court.
Democrats and public employee unions rallied against the bill sponsored by Republican Gov. Scott Walker and passed by the Legislature scaling back public employee unions' bargaining privileges and stopping the automatic flow of dues money from the state treasury to the unions and their allies in the Democratic Party.
The public employee unions hoped to defeat a Republican Supreme Court justice and create an activist liberal majority that might overturn the law. Turnout increased from 793,000 in April 2009 to 837,000 in the February 2011 primary to 1,494,000 last week, and examination of the returns shows big increases where unions are strong.
But the anti-spending enthusiasm that brought so many conservatives to the polls in November was still operative last week, and the Republican seems to have won by 7,000 votes. And Democrats' efforts to recall Republican state senators seem unlikely to net them the three seats they need for a majority.
A maximum effort by the unions, combined with Republican ham-handedness, was not quite enough to reverse last fall's result in a state Barack Obama carried by a margin of 56 to 42 percent.
The second development was House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan's unveiling of his budget resolution. Ryan did what President Obama's fiscal commission did in December but what Obama himself signally failed to do in his budget in February: address the long-term unsustainability of entitlements, specifically Medicare and Medicaid.
Every serious analyst knows that these programs are on a trajectory to balloon government to a share of gross domestic product unprecedented except in World War II. The fiscal commission proposed both increased taxes and program changes that would cut spending. Ryan proposed such program changes plus other spending and tax cuts.
The House seems sure to pass Ryan's budget, and Republican presidential candidates are likely to embrace similar proposals. This would not have happened -- and didn't happen during the Bush years -- but for public reaction to the Obama Democrats' policies.