Freedom at the tipping point

(Denver Post, Apr. 18) “The British are coming,” Paul Revere’s alarm to the Massachusetts countryside on this day in 1775, conveys an urgency you don’t get from the equivalent warning of 2010, “The bankruptcy is coming.”

Fact is, though, fiscal implosion threatens the aging United States of today as grimly as the redcoats threatened the newborn nation of 235 years ago. The question is whether Americans will come awake as the patriots did on that historic night, or sleepwalk into the abyss. I fear for our country, optimist that I am, because the answer is not clear.

To stop blindly expanding entitlements we can’t fund and borrowing what we can’t repay, the country has to snap out of politics as usual. We need a brutally honest self-appraisal, AA-style. The Tea Party movement is doing that, but so far the old-line Democratic and Republican parties are not. America’s genius for self-correction has never been more needed.

We must save ourselves from a terminal case of debtor’s disease state by state, with Washington dragged in last. It will be Massachusetts setting a good example with Scott Brown after setting a bad one on subsidized health care. Illinois passing pension reform while California remains in denial. New Jersey’s Chris Christie stepping up as a budget-balancing governor as our own Bill Ritter whiffs.

In Colorado neither the legislative session nor the election campaign has yet risen above politics as usual. Democrats raised taxes rather than discipline spending. Republicans went for higher electric rates on dubious environmental grounds. Both settled for a bandaid on the PERA pension cancer. The House Speaker favors an ACORN election bill. Bipartisan senators plan another strike at petition rights.

Constitutional amendments initiated by the people, you see, are part of what ails Colorado in the view of some elected politicians. They want to make it twice as hard for you and me to revise our own charter of government. Such restraints on power as term limits in 1990 and tax limits in 1992 couldn’t be so readily imposed in the better future these visionaries offer us. No thanks.

In the US Senate race, meanwhile, Democratic momentum is with Andrew Romanoff, a friend of the big unions that worsen our fiscal and economic woes, and the Republican field is led by Jane Norton, who supported the easy-spending Referendum C back in 2005, sugar for Colorado’s budgetary diabetes. The Democrats’ likely nominee for governor, Mayor Hickenlooper, is an habitual taxer, yet his opponent Scott McInnis won’t sign a no-tax pledge. Come on, friends, pick it up a notch.

My colleague Richard Bishirjian of Yorktown University contends that part of the problem in Colorado is a “brain drain” due to term limits. The deficit I see isn’t brains but backbone – a spine decline. We’re in danger of being systemically corrupted as a whole people, as the Independence Institute’s Dennis Polhill put it.

Today’s imperative – sober up and man up, or the Chinese will own us – is less galvanizing than a midnight cry to wake up or King George will tyrannize us. But make no mistake, freedom is again at a tipping point. The ascent from bondage to faith to courage to liberty, traced by historian Alexander Tytler in the 1770s, tilts quickly from liberty to complacency to apathy to dependency, returning then to bondage. Ask yourself where we are on that scale.

The balance our Founders sought, wrote James Madison, was to “first enable the government to control the governed; and in the next place oblige it to control itself.” Two centuries on, badly under Bush and still worse under Obama, Americans are getting little of the one and way too much of the other. We have to turn this around. Will 2010 be the year?

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