To fight another day

Republicans must pull back in this fiscal battle to win the war

It's time for a tactical retreat. The Tea Party needs to give a little today, in order to live to fight another day.


Conservatives in Washington are starting to fight like the same British troops that their guerilla-fighting forebears routed: in tight formation, in a full frontal assault straight into the teeth of the opposition.

They need to be smarter than that -- to understand their limits and to calculate the risks against their objectives.

Their cause is just, certainly; it's our cause, whether some folks know it or not. The federal government is spending us to oblivion, not only immorally burdening future generations, but endangering the present-day American economy. Even if the debt limit is raised, it's possible, perhaps likely, that America's credit rating will be lowered because of the amount of debt we've accumulated and the trajectory Washington has put us on. That would mean increased borrowing costs for all of us, and stomping any remaining life out of a near-death recovery.

Moreover, Democrats in Congress, as well as the president, don't seem capable of agreeing to even a pathetically small cut in federal spending: The House Republican plans of the past few weeks would've trimmed a trillion or less over a decade -- when our deficit this year alone is about $1.65 trillion. Pathetic.

Still, conservatives in the House need to realize that, however righteous or urgent their battle, they hold sway over only one of the two chambers of Congress, and the White House is under opposition control.

The danger of full-scale war at this point, then, is elementary: They're badly outnumbered, and easily outmaneuvered.

Not only does that put the nation at risk in the short-term, but it puts the conservatives' own fortunes in play: If the debt-ceiling issue turns out bad, even catastrophic, and the public ends up blaming the Republicans -- as the "mainstream" media will surely encourage us to do -- then the 2012 elections won't be the liberation conservatives are praying for.

It's time for conservatives to cut the best deal they can and regroup for future battles. It's not compromising one's principles; it's applying them to the art of the possible.

Besides, in truth, the foot-soldiers of the Tea Party-led conservative movement have already won this round. They have changed the entire discussion in Washington -- and, in the case of the debt-ceiling increase, they've managed to focus it entirely on spending cuts, with tax increases taken off the table.

What is the sense in winning this skirmish only to lose the public?

Look, we're on the conservatives' side. No editorial page in the nation has been more supportive of the Tea Party movement, which is aimed at nothing less than saving the country for our children.

But our friends in this crusade -- the largest and most effective grass-roots mobilization since the Civil Rights Era -- need to come to grips with the fact that this is a marathon, not a sprint. Just like the civil rights struggle, this one must heartily embrace a chain of modest victories over time.

In addition, while we've been on a shameful binge the past few years that's unprecedented in human history, it has taken decades for America to gorge itself to morbid obesity on borrowed cash. It will take time to change an entire country's eating habits.

To conservatives in Congress and all those who support their attempts to save our nation for posterity: Don't just make a deal to end this cliff-dwelling debt-ceiling crisis; do it with relish. Go on and happily let the Democrats wallow in glorious victory if they will, content that they've turned back the forces of fiscal sanity for the moment. Just let it steel you for the campaign to come.

You've actually won the day. Now you must live to fight another.