(Denver Post, Oct. 28) Have you voted yet? Our state’s nine electoral votes could hand the presidency to Romney or Obama -- and the Colorado outcome in 2012 could turn on a few hundred ballots, much like the Florida outcome in 2000.
Within months of achieving statehood in 1876, Colorado tipped the presidential election for Rutherford B. Hayes, as historian Tom Noel noted recently in these pages. Yet the dominant issue of that era, equal rights for former black slaves, wasn’t settled by the election. It troubled the American conscience for almost another century.
So in battling over the high stakes to be decided between the candidates next week, we need to recognize how much this election will NOT settle. It’s folly to assume that the Nov. 6 verdict ties a ribbon around everything. “Keeping the republic,” our task as free citizens in Benjamin Franklin’s words, is a marathon not a sprint.
Whether your ticket wins or loses, we’ll all wake up in the same America as before. It’s an America where neither Republicans nor Democrats have yet shown the backbone to keep our deficits and debt from worsening to the level of Greece -- with broke California, no longer the Golden State, leading the way. Think that will suddenly change in 2013?
An AP profile on Xi Jingping, soon to be president of China, says he will assume power confident in “Beijing’s belief that its chief rival Washington is in decline.” Osama bin Laden’s taunt that America is a “weak horse” echoes from beyond the grave, emboldening al Qaeda in Libya, the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, the mullahs in Tehran.
Much as I favor the GOP, one party’s victory won’t instantly dispel those doubts. For they arise from what a smart investor or a winning coach calls the fundamentals. Those who are short-selling the USA take note of the actuarial tables for the rise and fall of great nations – which predict a lifespan of about 250 years – and the indicators of slackness in our national character.
They look at what has been called the Tytler cycle, whereby a people climbs up from bondage through faith and courage to liberty and abundance, but then slides down through complacency and apathy into dependency and finally into bondage again. Detractors see America in the late afternoon of our greatness, with darkness coming on. Can we prove them wrong? Absolutely, but it will take more than campaign slogans.
The worst deficit our country faces, looking beyond election 2012, isn’t in jobs, budgets, pensions, or infrastructure. It’s not in energy, health, education, or national security. It is the deficit of personal responsibility. In our enjoyment of liberty and abundance, we’re in danger of forgetting that the price of both is responsibility and self-discipline. Our experiment in freedom on the cheap is running out of time.
A president who constantly ducks responsibility and blames others is but a symptom of this. We elected him with our eyes wide open. Voters took a chance – in hindsight, an irresponsible gamble – on the hip young community organizer over the crusty old war hero. The Obama phenomenon merely shows how far the celebrity culture has gone in swamping principled self-government.
Media elites didn’t care when Obama flew to Vegas for a fundraiser the day Ambassador Stevens was assassinated in an act of war. They shrugged when the former drug dealer Jay-Z threw a party for him. But few noticed either when Kid Rock, whose songs were too dirty for radio, opened for Romney in Denver the other day. Chill out, man.
I hope Mitt wins. He’ll do our country proud. But the rebirth of responsibility America needs, if we’re to survive, isn’t up to him or any politician. It’s up to the person in the mirror: you and me.
John Andrews is director of the Centennial Institute, former president of the Colorado Senate, and the author of Responsibility Reborn: A Citizen’s Guide to the Next American Century (Denali Press, 2011).
('76 Contributor) The impermanence of political systems and political glory has never been better portrayed than in Percy Bysshe Shelley’s sonnet, “Ozymandias.” It depicts a toppled, broken statue in the desert, on whose base some long-forgotten tyrant had inscribed his title as “king of kings” and boasted: “Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair.”
What the poet dramatized in 14 ironic lines, the writer of Ecclesiastes had earlier captured in a single word: vanity. Fidelity in our trust and firmness in our stewardship are never in vain, however. Keeping faith is its own reward and breaking faith its own dishonor, regardless of the outcome.
I believe this is no less true in our civic lives as Americans than in our personal lives as individuals – and if you agree, you will enjoy as much as I did a small book from a couple of years ago called Responsibility Reborn: A Citizen’s Guide to the Next American Century. Its author is a freedom fighter and a friend of mine of some 25 years—John K. Andrews, the founder of the Independence Institute, a former Colorado state senator, and presently the director of the Centennial Institute on the campus of Colorado Christian University in Denver.
Will the United States of America last forever? Of course not. No one who has studied history and human nature could think otherwise. But is our constitutional republic with its core of character and its relatively free, wondrously productive economy worth preserving and protecting, reforming and renewing for as long we possibly can, in order that “the blessings of liberty” may be secured to our posterity for a few generations more, God willing? Of course again. Indeed so.
This daunting task of keeping the republic (in Benjamin Franklin’s phrase), and combating the cultural entropy that brought down Ozymandias and undid mighty empires from Rome to the present day, is what Andrews explores in Responsibility Reborn.
His book resonated with me because of its congruence with a lot of thinking I have done about the importance of individual character and civic virtue in sustaining a free society. Much of it squares with my longtime concern that the very forces which led to the fall of ancient Rome are at work in America now. The erosion of character led to the rise of the Roman welfare/warfare state (and its eventual collapse) and we ignore that lesson at our peril.
Andrews cites the warnings of historians that the life span of great nations tends to be about 200 to 250 years, which he says grimly will put the United States as we approach our 237th birthday “right in the kill zone, unless you and I act to change things.” He frames the book around a look backward to the U. S. bicentennial in 1976, when elite opinion was already saying the country’s best days were behind us, and a look ahead to our next centennial in 2076 when John’s grandson Ian would be a grandfather himself.
The simple but compelling argument of Responsibility Reborn is that personal responsibility, “doing the right thing by choice,” is the one factor most decisive in America’s success story for centuries past, America’s comeback from being written off in the 1970s, and America’s prospects for reaching another centennial against the odds, freer and more prosperous, stronger and more vital than ever at age 300.
It’s a truism that personal responsibility is the flip side of individual liberty. They are inseparable, and the practice of each is indispensable to the enjoyment of the other, not only in the life of any man or woman but also in our life together as social beings. But think about how the freedom side of the coin, often perverted as entitlement or ease, dominates today’s political discourse and cultural climate.
Responsibility and self-discipline are too often disparaged these days, replaced by claims on others and excuses for one’s own poor judgments. John Andrews identifies what he calls “the paradox of success,” whereby the qualities of rigor, dedication, and deferred gratification that make achievement possible are weakened if that achievement is taken for granted or if we lose our character in the process.
In another author’s hands this message, worthy as it is, could blur into platitudes and preachments on the personal level or grand theorizing on the historical and political level. Andrews never lets this happen because he offers, in the middle section of the book, an unsparing “responsibility report card” on pivotal episodes in his own life, from the public protest resignation he made as a Nixon speechwriter during Watergate to the painful divorce from Donna, his college sweetheart, that he blames himself for. (They later remarried and remain so today.)
Responsibility Reborn derives its title from Andrews’ contention that America’s recovery of self-confidence, purpose, and constitutional conscience (imperfect as the latter was and remains) from 1980 onward – after the worsening statism from Theodore Roosevelt to Jimmy Carter and the shattered morale of the ‘70s – resulted not so much from a resurgent political conservatism as from a broader-based and in some ways bipartisan cultural realization that responsibility is the price of freedom after all. (Personally, though I’m optimistic for the long run, I wonder if the recovery Andrews speaks of hasn’t been nipped in the bud.)
Writing his book soon after Barack Obama swept into office with a compliant Democratic Congress and set about his project of “fundamentally transforming the United States of America,” Andrews ruefully admitted the lessons he hoped we had learned for good a generation ago have already faded and must be learned anew if there is to be a next American century.
How slow that process will necessarily be, and how deeply moral – not merely political – it must be to mean anything, was plain to many of us long before the 2012 election. Andrews foresaw as much by setting forth, in his concluding chapter on what must be done, a responsibility agenda measured in decades. He argues for civil society solutions, for a personal commitment (not a government-mandated one) to strengthening families and culture through such underappreciated things as character, learning, self-improvement and private charity.
I look around America these days and I see mounting wreckage from the abandonment of policies and practices rooted in the verities of personal character, responsibility in particular. Our government spends the next generation’s earnings for present graft and gratifications. Its welfare/warfare state tramples on cherished liberties as it extends its reach into not just every corner of the lives of Americans but also into the lives of millions of others in dozens of countries. John may not agree with me on everything (I admit to being a radical noninterventionist at home and abroad), but there is no doubt in my mind that the world would be an infinitely better place if his advice were heeded.
Lawrence W. Reed is president of the Foundation for Economic Education in Irvington, New York. This article first appeared on the FEE website, Oct. 20, 2012.
(Denver Post, Oct. 30) In a year and a week, we’ll know who Americans want for president. Anybody who claims much certainty about it until then is howling at the moon. I have no prescience about the race, other than to implore my fellow Republicans against over-confidence in the face of Obama’s potent incumbency and billion-dollar war chest.
Unsure as I am about 2012, however, I’ve just been through an experience that encourages me for America’s prospects in this decade, the road to 2020. Strange as it sounds amid our economic woes and the dire predictions of decline, there are signs of a strong rebound like that of the 1980s soon to come.
What makes me say so? The impressions gathered on a book tour. Almost daily since August, when I brought out “Responsibility Reborn: A Citizen’s Guide to the Next American Century” from MT6 Media, they’ve had me talking about it across the country in radio interviews, TV appearances, and speeches. It’s like campaigning again, only the exchange of ideas is far richer.
And my take-away is that Middle America’s “remnant” – as the unbowed faithful were called in ancient Israel – has not yet begun to fight. The fiscal follies, the Great Recession, and the Occupy Wall Street tantrum haven’t deadened the core of character that makes us exceptional. The American spirit, though battered, remains resilient. A hundred days on the author circuit have convinced me.
Personal responsibility as the indispensable condition of freedom and the price of sustained success, a theme in my Denver Post column since 2007, is also the theme of my book. The responsibility deficit as causative to our budgetary and educational and national security deficits – and as fatal to our country, if things don’t change – is my uncheerful warning to every audience. What’s remarkable is that they get it.
The talk shows that have me on, the groups I’m speaking to, are mostly political and conservative, Republican, and in many cases Christian. If they bridled at being told the GOP is part of the responsibility deficit, an entitlement enabler, and that our urgent challenge now is more moral and cultural than partisan or political, I’d worry. But because they own up, instead of pushing back, I am heartened. Therein are the makings of a turnaround.
America has seen this movie before, remember. After the stormy 1960s gave way to the stagnant ‘70s, elite opinion clucked over the nation’s impending decline, the need for lowered expectations, the likelihood we’d seen our best days. Elections weren’t what refuted that. Rebirth of a responsibility ethic from the bottom up refuted it. Reagan’s rise was a consequence, not a cause.
This is why I’m bullish on USA 2020, regardless of the 2012 electoral outcome. Win or lose next year, Barack Obama is indisputably Jimmy Carter redux – and having to endure another term of the man, with an opposition Congress restraining his leftward lurch, won’t ruin us. Do I want that? No. Nor do I expect it. But my confidence rests outside politics, with the already-dawning return of Element R, the responsible remnant.
Politicians fade so fast. By the time we vote in 2020, whoever next wins the presidency will be done in Washington. Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper and Denver Mayor Michael Hancock will be done in my state, as will most of today's big names in your state. Fixing on the 2020 horizon, and prioritizing a responsibility agenda that puts cultural renewal ahead of governmental goals, will best harness the Tea Party energy for lasting change.
On tour, I have talked of ten steps for this decade. The first five aren’t even political: families strengthened, learning honored, charities expanded, churches energized, multiculturalism outgrown. Upon that foundation we then aim for citizenship revived, defenses rebuilt, government relimited, sovereignty reasserted, freedom of conscience upheld. Personalities come and go. Principles endure. What are yours?
(Foxnews.com, Sept. 1) Memo to Mark Steyn: America is not the Titanic. Our decline is not a done deal. This country can sail through the present storm and into favorable seas again, if enough of us will just man the pumps and not the lifeboats.
In his latest book, After America: Get Ready for Armageddon, the brilliant and prolific Steyn, a Canadian now living here, warns that the USA is headed for the graveyard of nations unless big changes occur soon. Can it be so?
Plenty of trends and symptoms bear out Mark’s concern over the “impending collapse” of American society. But along with my amen to his alarm, I want to say a sharp nay to any sense of fatalism that Uncle Sam is finished. No way.
It’s true things are grim. The ennui of the elites, the demographic data, the debt crisis, the downgrade, the stagnant economy the gridlock in Washington, the demonizing of Tea Party reformers, the drift in American foreign policy, the dynamism of China, and the expansionism of Islam all suggest that our nation, like its parent civilization in Europe, may be a sinking ship.
Steyn’s introduction to After America refers to his previous bestseller, America Alone, this way: “Last time ‘round, I wrote that Europe was facing a largely self-inflicted perfect storm that threatened the very existence of some of the oldest nation-states in the world. My warning proved so influential that America decided to sign up for the same program but supersized.”
The longer Obama stays, the truer this seems. Nor would his departure brighten the picture much, for the real problem is less political than spiritual, as Alexander Tytler and John Glubb could attest.
Tytler, an 18th century Scottish thinker, observed that the average age of the world’s great civilizations is about 200 years. They go, he said, “from bondage to spiritual faith, from spiritual faith to great courage, from courage to liberty, from liberty to abundance, from abundance to complacency, from complacency to apathy, from apathy to dependence, and from dependence back into bondage.”
In 1976, Glubb, the British historian and soldier, published The Fate of Nations, his own analysis of the decline syndrome. He gave a slightly longer lifespan – 250 years – but laid out a life cycle similar to the one portrayed by Tytler, ending with an age of decadence brought on by “selfishness, love of money, and the loss of a sense of duty,”and marked by “defensiveness, pessimism, materialism, frivolity, an influx of foreigners, the welfare state, and the weakening of religion.” It sounds all too familiar. Indeed both characterizations bear remarkable resemblance to the trajectory of American history. And, if the window for great nations to commit moral and fiscal suicide is about 200 to 250 years, America at age 235 is right in the kill zone. You’d have to be dreaming not to recognize, as Steyn does, that we live in a nation that has for quite a while been somewhere on the declining side of the cycle. But a pattern isn’t destiny and a trend isn’t irreversible.
At the Western Conservative Summit in Denver several weeks ago, it happened that I spoke on the renewal agenda in my new book, Responsibility Reborn, just an hour before Mark Steyn regaled the audience with a chilling yet hilarious riff on the declinist warnings in After America. But were we at odds? No.
Steyn’s inspiring close, invoking the motto of his adopted state of New Hampshire, “Live free or die,” and the defiant spirit of Flight 93, “Let’s roll,” heartened me with the assurance that Mark is no more ready to give up the ship than you and I are. Both of those rallying cries, like the ten-word keynote of my book, “If it is to be, it is up to me,” remind Americans of the opportunity to control our own destiny through personal responsibility and voluntary initiative.
Neither the dependence that Tytler said leads to bondage, nor the denial of duty that Glubb saw as fatal, can be remedied by legislation or elections. Changing the occupant of the Oval Office won’t suffice to avert the self-inflicted Armageddon that Steyn sees coming. Nothing short of citizens one by one looking into the abyss and then into the mirror, and vowing “Not on my watch,” will begin to remedy the responsibility deficit and break the entitlement addiction that’s killing us.
But break it we can. America has been here before, remember. Written off by declinists in the 1970s, she came roaring back in the ‘80s after responsibility was reborn in the heartland. All of us are crew members on this voyage, not just passengers. Decline is a choice, as Charles Krauthammer has pointed out. With everything that’s in me, I choose against it. How about you?
John Andrews, former president of the Colorado Senate and current director of the Centennial Institute, is the author of “Responsibility Reborn: A Citizen’s Guide to the Next American Century” (MT6 Media, 2011).
(Denver Post, July 24) Will Barack Obama go the way of Jimmy Carter, and lose reelection after demonstrating weak leadership in a troubled economy? One Coloradan with a keen nose for the political wind signaled last week that he thinks it might happen.
Gov. John Hickenlooper told a reporter the president would “have a hard time” carrying our state right now, because “there’s such dissatisfaction over people who have been out of work” for months or even years. Though Hick’s warning wasn’t an outright prediction of Obama’s defeat, it’s significant because Colorado is widely considered a must-win if he is to hold the White House.
If voters throw out the incumbent, it will be as much because of conclusions we the people have reached about ourselves, as because of anything we conclude about the Democratic president and his Republican challenger, whoever that may be.
We’ll have realized that “consent of the governed” is a responsibility for each of us, not just a mass wave swept along by partisan currents and media gales. Again in 2012, as in 1980 when Carter was ousted, Americans will have decided it’s grab the steering wheel or crash. The leadership reversal we could see next year would simply be the culmination of a citizenship resurgence that began a year or two ago.
The Tea Party movement, consciously echoing the determined citizens who resisted royal oppression and later wrote consent into the Declaration of Independence, is the most potent force for reassertion of America’s founding principles since the Reaganauts of the 1970s refused to believe our best days were behind us. Its emergence in 2009 answered my hope, expressed in several 2007 columns, for a responsibility movement to challenge both parties and reach beyond them.
The conscience our self-government has long lacked is awake again at last. A GOP president taking office in 2013, if such occurs, would find himself or herself equally under the skeptical Tea Party eye as the GOP Congress does now. The new political mandate is to do the right thing; not the easy or customary thing, but the right thing and nothing less. What a welcome change, and just in time to save ourselves – if we still can.
Doing the right thing by choice, and then owning the consequences of your choice: that’s personal responsibility. There’s no other antidote to the debt candy and the entitlement addiction gripping Democrats and Republicans alike. No other antidote to the fiscal deficits engulfing state and federal budgets. No other antidote to the moral deficit of throwaway marriages, negligent parenting, rigged school tests, hacked cell phones.
Deficits abound, but it’s ultimately the responsibility deficit that will sink us unless we get a grip. Its symptoms are everywhere – in dishonest pension promises, in Orwellian day-care regulations, in sanctimonious politicians with zippers down, in an Obamacare law that embeds big business and big labor with big government, waivers the connected, dehumanizes the patient, cooks the books, and calls it reform.
The American experiment asks a brilliant, daring question: How much success can freedom produce? The answer, for the first two centuries, was an astounding amount. But the 1960s and ‘70s revealed a serpent in the garden. We learned that freedom and success can be their own worst enemies. Responsibility has to temper and guide them. History’s drama turns on our continually forgetting and relearning that.
It was responsibility reborn in citizens’ hearts and minds, not mere electoral victories, that turned twilight in America after Vietnam, Watergate, assassinations, and stagflation into morning in America with booming growth, renewed confidence, and Cold War victory.
Another responsibility movement seems to be stirring today. It didn’t start in Washington; they never do. The Washington crowd will either catch on or catch hell. Time is short. History’s drama heightens.
John Andrews is director of the Centennial Institute, former president of the Colorado Senate, and author of Responsibility Reborn: A Citizen's Guide to the Next American Century (Denali Press, 2011). Learn more at www.ResponsibilityReborn.com
('76 Editor) What makes America exceptional? What revived our nation's greatness after the disastrous 1970s? What has energized the conservative comeback since 2009? How can the USA beat the historical odds that say the third century is sunset time for republics? And bottom line: What must be our citizenship agenda for this next decisive decade? My new book, coming out next week from Denali Press, tackles those questions from the perspective of a lifetime on the political battlefield and a deep love for our land. It's called Responsibility Reborn: A Citizen's Guide to the Next American Century. See below for a peek at the front and back cover. Hugh Hewitt, I'm honored to say, wrote the foreword. He praised the book as "valuable for everyone who aims to lead and to leave behind a worthy legacy." Others endorsing the book include Ed Meese, Don Hodel, Chuck Colson, Cal Thomas, Larry Reed, Bob Beauprez, James C. Bennett, Alan Crippen, and my longtime mentor, now president of Colorado Christian University, former Sen. Bill Armstrong. "Responsibility Reborn shines a beacon of hope," said former Sen. Hank Brown. "You will be inspired."
Sales of Responsibility Reborn: A Citizen's Guide to the Next American Century through a dedicated website and Amazon.com, as well as in bookstores, will begin soon. The price is $20 plus shipping. We're now taking advance orders via email to Centennial@ccu.edu. Simply send your name, postal address, and daytime phone number. You'll be contacted for payment and other details. An e-book will also be available.
"Freedom is the master value," I wrote in outlining my personal credo some years ago. By hard experience I learned that no, personal responsibility is always the price of freedom. From there I began calling for Element R, a citizens' responsibility movement, via my column and radio show. Then I wrote this book. There's blood in the ink; I am that committed to this idea.
Americans can be responsible and free, or we can be irresponsible and enslaved. There is no other option and no middle ground. That's the urgent message of Responsibility Reborn, a book that can change the way you think about our country and your stake in it.
Responsibility Reborn - Front Cover.JPG (451.71 kb)
Responsibility Reborn - Back Cover.JPG (462.89 kb)