The Road to 2020

(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?

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