America’s political history over the last century – and, if we stay on our current course, its political future – can be read in two symbols that were ever-present in the last election.
The Forward slogan of the Obama campaign is the battle cry of a movement with a destination and a plan. In its European versions, Forward carried with it the idea of a march towards the eventual victory of socialism or Communism. Obama’s campaign slogan retained that sense of a march towards a destination, a new kind of America ruled by principles long espoused by leftists of various stripes.
Don’t Tread on Me connotes the spirit of independence and resistance to tyranny that emboldened the patriot movement at the country’s founding. Revived by the grassroots conservative movement of today, the slogan conveys the determination of modern patriots to defend liberty when it is threatened.
But Forward connotes action, and Don’t Tread on Me connotes reaction. And unless conservatives see the strategic implications of those two symbols, America will continue its descentinto the moral and economic bog of socialism.
Since the days of Edmund Burke, conservatives have conceived our political role in defensive terms, as protecting the rights of citizens against government encroachments and defending social stability against the radical movements of the day. In describing the mission of his new magazine in 1955, William F. Buckley, Jr. said that National Review “stands athwart history, yelling Stop.” Today, the grassroots conservative movement stands athwart the far left’s agenda for America yelling Hell No.
But there are two problems for conservatism as a defensive movement. First, because the left is always on the strategic offensive, deciding when and where to push their agenda, leftists only have to win occasionally. As an essentially defensive movement, however, the right has to win every encounter, or liberty loses ground.
The right stopped Hillarycare in 1994, but the left just came back again with Obamacare. Even if the right had stopped Obamacare, the left would have come back with the same bill under different names. The left only had to win the battle for control of health care once. In the courts, the left mounts challenge after challenge to Second Amendment rights, traditional marriage, and anything else that stands in the way of their agenda. It does not matter how often they lose; the left only has to win once, and a new precedent is set. In politics, time is on the side of those who maintain the offensive, and the left is always on the offensive.