A successful strategy for reducing the size and scope of government must begin by forcefully rejecting the unwritten rule that has governed American politics for the past 100 years. Liberals and progressives really do believe and really do follow this rule: “What’s mine is mine, and what’s yours is negotiable.”

We like to think this kind of arrogance is heard only from bullies on school playgrounds. But liberals have been getting away with it for decades. When was the last time any government program was abolished?

In 1995, President Clinton made headlines by saying in his State of the Union Address, “The era of big government is over.” Sadly, what he meant was that the rhetoric of big government was passé, not the thirst for it.

Sixteen years later, we hear promises from Republicans in Congress to end deficit spending and halt the growth of the federal debt. Republicans do not have the votes in the U.S. Senate to accomplish those things, but it’s good to see at least a change in direction. Yet, do they really understand the enormity of the task?

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Federal deficit spending is so embedded in our politics that it cannot be fixed in one year or by any one Congress. It will take a sustained, Herculean effort, and conservatives need a plan to support and persevere in that effort over several election cycles, not just the 2012 presidential election.

The first lesson Republicans ought to have learned is that you must stay on the offensive. But even that simple rule cannot yield results unless you know where the goal posts are.

It may be that the most dangerous opponents in the struggle to reduce government spending are not the liberals – who have run out of arguments for expanded deficit spending after the hundreds of billions spent on their failed “stimulus” program – but the “business as usual” thinking within the Republican party itself.

Someone who cares mainly about keeping the trains running on time is not interested in joining a debate over the destination of the train. And unfortunately, they are not helpful at all when the train is out of control and heading for a crash.

The 2010 elections brought a brigade of reinforcements to the Republicans who want to take the offensive against big government. This was not the result of better polling or better “messaging.” The Republican victories in 2010 were the result of a return to first principles, an insistence that acts of government that are unconstitutional must be repealed, not made to work better or more efficiently. Yet despite this strong showing by principled candidates, the Republican Party still has an echelon of party leaders, consultants and strategists who do not think in terms of a serious, sustained attack on the size of government.

Here we come to the crux of the matter: How do we cut spending if voters are schizoid? The conventional wisdom is that voters want government spending reduced but do not want their own benefits touched. It is no coincidence that Republican presidential candidates who go to Iowa do not talk about ending the subsidies for ethanol. So, is it utopian to think that government can be made smaller?

The truth of the matter is that voters have not been challenged to face and deal with a harsh reality – the reality that we are not only broke, we are rapidly approaching a day or reckoning when more debt cannot be financed by bonds. We are only a few steps behind Greece, Portugal and Ireland. If voters do not understand this, it is not because they are stupid, it is because politicians are afraid to tell them.

Our impending bankruptcy will force the hand of all politicians who prefer to dole out benefits instead of asking people to tighten their belts. Entitlement programs and retirement benefits must be restructured and taxpayer costs reduced. Federal intrusions into energy and education must be scaled back.

The good news is that while the U.S. can help bail out other countries that go bankrupt, there is no one that can bail us out. We will have to save ourselves. For self-styled progressives, this is Armageddon. For conservatives, it’s the day we leave fantasyland behind and return to the Constitution.

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