('76 Contributor) The elections have been over for over a month now. It’s time to take a look at the choices we made, so that we can understand and take full responsibility for them. Amid a heated and very closely monitored senatorial race, fellow Coloradoans made their voices heard and elected former appointed Sen. Michael Bennet to represent us at the United States Senate. This was done, despite many obvious concerns over the candidate’s ability to truly and effectively speak on our behalf. So now that we know who our representative will be, let us take a look at three important issues that will impact every Coloradoan: the Bush tax cuts, the death tax, and the economy. Despite the fact that he spent his first year blaming his trillion-dollar budget deficit on the Bush tax cuts of 2001 and 2003, President Obama finally sang another tune a few days ago. After a series of bargains and compromises, President Obama claimed to have extended the Bush tax cuts because he was no longer “here to play games with the American people or the health of our economy” and that "it would be a grave injustice to let taxes increase for these Americans right now [because] it would deal a serious blow to our economic recovery." So what took him and Senator Bennet so long to come to this conclusion? Although this may be considered as a short-term victory – since it ensures that our economy doesn’t go back into a recession – on the long-term it may not be enough because individuals, families, and business need a better idea of what to expect in 5 to 10 years down the road. Another important issue that will affect many will be the death tax. The death tax expires this month and will come back in full force on January 1, 2011. The 2001 tax relief lowered the rate of the death tax from 55 percent in 2000 to 45 percent in 2009, and raised the amount of an estate exempt from taxation over the same period from $1 million to $3.5 million, before eliminating the tax completely in 2010. According to research provided by the Heritage Foundation, “The death tax is a drag on America's family-owned businesses, destroys jobs, and lowers the wages of workers while raising little revenue”. The conclusion and recommendations made by the Heritage Foundation’s Thomas A. Roe Institute for Economic Policy Studies encourage Congress to repeal the estate tax once and for all to remove this unnecessary burden from the weakened economy because “doing so would help create jobs for 1.5 million Americans currently out of work”. At this time and moment all indications point to the fact that President Obama and his Senator Bennet want the death tax to resume at its previous high rate of 55 percent. This brings us to the last topic that affects every Coloradoan – energy and job creation. Colorado is in a unique position to be an energy leader that in turn will create jobs and help prosper the state; this can only be done if people like Senator Bennet and the EPA stop vilifying the natural gas and energy industry. If our desire is to see new ideas brought to the energy table, we need to take heart, listen, and give the industry a chance to prosper before stunting it’s growth from the word go. Senator Michael Bennet strongly believes in Cap and trade that doesn’t bode well for our state. To conclude here are a few very important questions to ask ourselves. Did we make the right choice in electing Michael Bennet? Is he going to be in Washington, D.C. playing political games again or would he be there to truly look out for Colorado’s best interest? Although many might have an idea how things are going to look, only time will tell and confirm our suspicions.
(Denver Post, Sept. 5) “McInnis: A Jobs Governor,” say the bus benches and billboards that were to give the former GOP congressman a lift toward November after he won in August; only he lost. Still you see the slogan everywhere, as sad as a Christmas tree in spring, a reminder of how strange politics can be. (And stranger yet if the Dan Maes candidacy also ends, a possibility when I wrote this.)
Meanwhile the finalists for senator forge into fall with their own bizarre blemishes left over from summer – Democrat Michael Bennet alleged to have been a corporate looter, Republican Ken Buck scolded for joking that “I don’t wear high heels.” (Has declining to cross-dress ever before been deemed politically insensitive?)
If such malefactors at the top of both tickets weren’t enough to make nonvoters of us all, my fellow Republicans have the opportunity to lose sleep over the shockingly moderate coloration of Tambor Williams, Maes’ designee for lieutenant governor.
Becoming Light Guv is usually a disappearance sufficient to one’s face on a milk carton. But suddenly Ms. Williams, unlikely ever to take office and powerless if she did, was held up as my party’s bogeywoman of the center, sinister as Hillary Clinton. Come on.
Overall, it’s painfully evident that in 2010, even more than in most election years, few of us are going to get what we want. But can we at least get, as the self-help guru Mick Jagger once promised, what we need? I think so.
Suppose the campaign was a supermarket. You could breeze in for a Lotto ticket, a six-pack, and a gossip magazine – resulting tomorrow in the lottery not paying off, a hangover, and Brangelina as remote as before. This is the dreamy wish-fulfillment approach to elections that too many Americans, left and right, indulge in. Embarrassingly juvenile, really.
As grownups, though, you and I know better. We’re going to the store with a list, smart shoppers ready to turn last week’s earnings into next week’s eating. We’ll go easy on the junk food, heavy on the healthy stuff, and if the menu in coming days isn’t quite the banquet of our dreams, at least we’ve kept our self-reliance and our self-respect. We’re not chumps for anyone’s ad pitch.
Election Day will bring less frustration and more satisfaction (apologies to the Rolling Stones again), no matter where you’re located on the political spectrum, if you use Labor Day to make up your campaign shopping list in this fashion. The eight intervening weeks will also be less of an ordeal, because you’ll have a calm, cool sense of seeing through all the flimflam.
The aisles to avoid are the ones with entitlements, benefit goodies, borrowing from our kids, laws that play favorites, victimhood, appeasing aggressor, inflammatory wedge issues, hero-worship of my guys, demonizing the other guys, future scenarios with utopian fantasies or dystopian horrors. That stuff is junk no matter which party peddles it, and both sometimes do. It will only make a sick body politic sicker. Don’t even feed it to your dog.
Seeing through the flimflam isn’t the same as preventing it, of course. Some candidates and ballot issues perpetrating the above will win. Some opposed to it will lose. But your shopping list is good into 2011 and beyond, as a guide for holding all those darned politicians accountable. Do it!
And if your list includes the healthy restraints of divided government in Denver as well as Washington; the rebirth of competing media voices in our state; some soul-searching by Colorado Republicans and Democrats alike, after a sloppy show this year; a state Supreme Court chastened by voter vigilance; and a return to reality-based politics following the Obama euphoria of 2008 – well then, I can practically guarantee you a delicious, nutritious midnight supper on Nov. 2.
(Denver Post, May 30) An Alaska mayor shocks the governor in a primary, then humbles an ex-governor in the general election, then electrifies the nation as John McCain’s running mate. A legislator from the laughing-stock Massachusetts Republicans upsets the attorney general to capture a perennially Democratic Senate seat. A lowly Pennsylvania congressman ignores the president’s support for a party-switching senator and retires him in a primary, Obama endorsement and all.You know their names. In ousting Arlen Specter, Joe Sestak (corrupt job offer notwithstanding) followed a pattern set by Scott Brown and Sarah Palin. Voters in both parties are turning to conviction candidates and giving resume’ candidates the boot. Palin’s rollicking speech at DU last weekend, hours after the state Republican convention, got me wondering whether the same pattern fits Colorado.Laughing that it was fun to do politics at an ice rink, the Wasilla hockey mom skated in to forecheck the Messiah himself. Her deft indictment of Mr. Obama’s policies delighted the crowd of several thousand, about half of them Tea Partiers by a show of hands. With her peroration on Reagan as a model of the “lifeguard leadership” America needs, you could hear Sarah asking herself: “Should I run in 2012?”Time will tell. Right now there is 2010 to deal with, and on a Saturday that had seen conventional wisdom toppled among both Democrats and Republicans, something else you could hear was our state’s previously favored hopefuls for senator and governor frantically recalculating their chances.Jane Norton and Ken Buck, Senate rivals in the August GOP primary, both attended the Palin event. Once the underdog, he was riding a 77% delegate majority and positive media buzz. She was coming off several days of rough press and party grumbling over her decision to bypass the convention and file petitions. Listening in on their thoughts that night would have been fascinating. Though still formidable in likability, endorsements, and funding, the former lieutenant governor now clearly has a race on her hands. For all that Norton was recently lauded by Gov. Palin as a “pink elephant,” a conservative woman to watch, the pit bull of the hour seems to be Buck.The same dramatic reversal of fortune, like something out of the movies, has befallen Michael Bennet and Andrew Romanoff, Senate rivals on the Democratic side. Romanoff, feisty and buoyant, radiates conviction. Bennet has the resume’, but he plods. The incumbent’s war chest and White House backing may prove no more decisive for him than they were for poor Arlen Specter.It was in the race for governor, though, that May 22 invited the craziest speculation on who might become Colorado’s Sarah Palin. Evergreen businessman Dan Maes, authentic and fearless but politically unknown, announced in early 2009 against Gov. Bill Ritter. Fat chance. Like most Republicans, I shrugged and awaited the serious contenders. First came former congressman Scott McInnis, then state Sen. Josh Penry, then (very briefly) former presidential candidate Tom Tancredo. But suddenly last November, Penry and Tancredo were out. This January, Ritter too was out. And now as June begins, McInnis sits SECOND on the ballot behind, of all people, Dan Maes.Is it another case of conviction trumping resume’? If latecomer Joe Gschwendtner gains traction, does a three-way primary (like Palin’s in 2006) help Maes? Could Dauntless Dan, if nominated by the GOP, beat the media’s darling, John Hickenlooper? There is precedent. Back in 1962, the untried John Love took out Democrat Gov. Steve McNichols. Things are at a boil, and as Samuel Adams of Boston Tea Party fame observed, “It does not require a majority to prevail, but rather an irate, tireless minority keen to set brush fires in people's minds.” Americans and Coloradans, fired up about over-government, have made this a year of surprises already. My hunch is we haven’t seen anything yet.
(Denver Post, May 2) “Son, you have become a man. Mom and I are so proud of your maturity. In turning 21 today and taking a bride tomorrow, you reach the age of emancipation. This is literally your time of being set free, entering upon self-determined adulthood. What a milestone.
“Because we care for you and your wife and children, we’ll stay involved as parents in a few small ways. We will provide a house for you, and cars as needed. We will supply you energy for all those. Of course we’ll always cover the medical bills for you and the kids. Costs of school and college will be on us as well. Plus an income floor. Pay a share of these things if you can, but don’t strain yourself. It’s our tribute to your independence.”
Independence, Dad? Who are you kidding? That’s a gilded cage. Any mother and father who coddled their grown children this way (some do, of course, to their sorrow) would be committing parental malpractice. Any son or daughter thus “cared for” should feel insulted, indentured, and infantilized.
But consider: The dependence we find so repugnant if indulged within the family is all around us politically, under paternalistic big government. Housing, heating, healing, food, fuel, lighting, leisure, teaching, transportation, and pocket money are ALL now provided, subsidized, or facilitated for many of us by the omnipotent State. And the trend line keeps rising, no matter which party is charge. We’re hooked.
To feed our habit, Americans will pay more in taxes this year than everything we spend for food, clothing, and shelter. And to meet the remaining cost of paternalism, we’ll borrow yet more from our grandkids. This year’s actual Tax Freedom Day, deficit included, isn’t until May 17. Obama’s spending orgy in 2009 and 2010 has pushed it later than at any time since World War II. Then we were fighting for survival. Now we’re just gorging for appetite.
Don’t worry, though. Those health care heroes, the Democrats, have the cure for our fiscal obesity: more calories. In honor of April 15, state Sen. Chris Romer warned that Colorado can’t hope to have a thriving economy “until we learn to raise our taxes.” That same week, US Sen. Michael Bennet claimed the Tea Party movement is “trafficking in a kind of nihilistic vision that says we don't have a responsibility to the next generation.” So now dependency is a duty?
Most Coloradans, whether their party is R or D or Tea, would snort in disgust if you gave them a Declaration of Dependence to sign. Statehood was only granted us, after all, on condition of upholding the Declaration of Independence. We pay it lipservice, picturing ourselves as “a free people” who honorably direct their own “lives and fortunes,” and resist despotism “with manly firmness.” Yet sadly, we’re more like a fatty seeing muscle in the mirror. The firm self-reliance of our forefathers has gone to flab.
The collectivist freebies we all depend on are scarcely imagined in the Colorado Constitution – and unauthorized in the United States Constitution. Immense unfunded liabilities for entitlements and pensions, state and federal alike, loom like Katrina headed for landfall. Yet the political establishment shrugs off the impending emergency. Democrats and Republicans, courts and media, labor and business have combined to weaken this state’s best protection, TABOR.
Citizens unwilling to declare their dependence have put on the ballot a TABOR rescue package. Amendment 60 restores our vote on property taxes. Amendment 61 restores our vote on debt. Proposition 101 cuts the tax on cars, phones, and income. Womb-to-tomb paternalism will suffocate our liberty and prosperity if we don’t bestir ourselves. Passing those three measures would be a start.
(Denver Post, Jan. 24)) Why did Gov. Bill Ritter fold his reelection campaign? Why is Sen. Michael Bennet so far behind in the polls? Why did Scott Brown win in Massachusetts? Why is Barack Obama struggling to save his presidency, one year after taking office in triumph?
Because Americans have completely lost patience with irresponsibility. For years this column has talked of the need for a responsibility movement to challenge both political parties. “We’ll call it Element R and launch it today, right here in Colorado,” I wrote in 2007. What the country has seen in recent months is Element R, in fact if not in name, starting to take charge.
Surveys foretold what elections in Virginia, New Jersey, and now Massachusetts have confirmed: sharp declines in Democratic support, benefiting Republican candidates but not greatly boosting Republican registration. It’s the independent voters whose ranks are growing. Citizens are less inclined to ally with either the donkey or the elephant. Both have forfeited confidence.
People’s aroused insistence for responsibility instead of irresponsibility, on the part of those we entrust with power, best explains the new political landscape. To start with definitions, responsibility means keeping a trust, doing your duty, facing the music. Whereas irresponsibility means shirking, acting in disregard of consequences, behaving as if 2 and 2 don’t make 4. Examples abound.
Ritter’s fatal wound, absent-father guilt aside, seems to have been either fiscal and executive recklessness or an impending legal-ethical scandal. He might have brazened it out, whatever the case, if years of gubernatorial irresponsibility by the likes of Davis in California, Blagojevich in Illinois, and Sanford in South Carolina hadn’t inflamed public disgust. But in 2010 the odds have become prohibitive, so he’s quitting.
The responsibility deficit for Bennet as an interim senator from Colorado matches that of Martha Coakley in her failure to become an interim senator from Massachusetts. Neither grasped that the country’s tolerance for unserious political palaver-as-usual is exhausted. The national BS detector is pegged. Bennet’s phony indignation over corrupt deals in the health care bill, and then over secret negotiations for same, backed up in neither case by his vote, simply spelled game over.
As for our glib young president, Mr. Obama set a trap for himself on inauguration day. After calling for a “new era of responsibility,” he has proved epically irresponsible ever since – weakening us against our enemies, selling out our allies, ballooning the deficit, expanding government, worsening the recession by bullying business, and obsessing over socialized medicine like Ahab with the whale. No wonder his numbers are at record lows.
The irresponsibility epidemic, a contagion long carried by Democrats but often caught by Republicans as well, finally triggered public fury in last year’s tea parties and townhalls. This is the uprising I’ve called Element R. But is it a movement – perhaps even a force capable of remaking the GOP? Or is it merely an electoral mood?
The responsibility backlash will continue taking its healthy toll. Whether it’s durable enough to take charge, time will tell. Though unaffiliated voters hold the balance of power, the coherence of their views is doubtful. Here in Colorado, it would be interesting to see Element R gel and assert itself to the point of asking questions that the established parties shrink from. These might include:
Does the initiative process make government so responsive as to be irresponsible? Is marijuana prohibition working any better than alcohol prohibition did? In legislating away both pregnancy and parenthood, have we signed a demographic suicide pact? Is Muslim sharia law compatible with liberty?
Dems and GOP alike have done none too well with our sacred responsibility for “keeping the republic,” in Franklin’s words. May they both feel the righteous wrath of Element R.