Show some backbone

(Denver Post, Nov. 27) “Thanksgiving and Christmas 2011, now those were tough times. The House and Senate couldn’t agree on raising taxes. Denver and Aurora couldn’t agree on the Stock Show.

“Democrats couldn’t get excited about Obama. Republicans couldn’t get excited about anyone. It was grim, I tell you. Worse than 1933, with unemployment over 20%, Hitler and Stalin menacing Europe.

“Worse than 1942, with the world in flames, the Allies beset by Germany and Japan. Worse than 1968, with assassinations, race riots, failed presidencies, antiwar marches.

“No, youngsters, none of those dark days compared with the year we lost Steve Jobs. Elway was dissing Tebow. Big Air was cancelled. Black December, we called it. Be grateful you weren’t born yet.”

Will Grandpa be narrating such melodrama by a Colorado fireside decades from now? Hardly. So why the long face? We’ve survived worse than this. Purpose and grit will get us through. Coloradans have backbone. Our best days are ahead, there’s no doubt of it.

Yet four out of five Americans in a recent poll said the country is now in decline. Maybe we are beginning to see ourselves as a people that things happen to, rather than what we’ve historically been since Pilgrim times—a people who make things happen. It’s a huge difference; and fortunately, it’s still our choice.

Local reaction to failure of the congressional “supercommittee” to reach a deficit-reduction agreement, as reported last week by the Denver Post, portrayed Colorado as an almost helpless dependent of the federal budget. The state will be a less desirable place to live in dozens of ways, one gathered, if spending growth slows down to keep America from a Greek-style fiscal collapse. Woe is us.

The obvious rejoinder is twofold, it seems to me. First, let’s have some perspective here. Spending growth HAS to slow. Barreling along on the current unsustainable path is not an option. It would make all 50 of the states a worse place to live.

Second, since the budget binge is clearly ending, deal or no deal, let’s make a virtue of necessity and get busy positioning Colorado for greater economic self-sufficiency. The time should come when we’re NOT a groveling client of the Beltway. How about both parties in the legislature and the Hickenlooper administration vying to outdo each other on reforms toward that goal, come January?

New Year’s confetti will hardly be swept up, of course, when presidential politics goes white-hot with caucuses and primaries, Colorado included. Some say that movement on policy will then halt because of election-year posturing. But considering our state’s particular leverage in the 2012 race, why do we have to accept that?

We’ll not only be a battleground state again as we were in 2008. This time, Colorado could play the decisive role that Florida played in 2000. Strategists on both sides have spun out scenarios in which our nine electoral votes tip the balance of 269 to elect the incumbent or the challenger. (Lucky we stayed off the National Popular Vote bandwagon.)

So we will have, to put it mildly, the respectful attention of both Obama and his opponent—Romney, Gingrich, or whoever—all the way to November. As individual voters and especially through our organized groups, we should be thinking about what we want from them. I don’t mean our selfish wants, but our agenda for the civic good, for America’s renewal.

Our state is being paid yet another compliment, if you can call it that, as pundits left and right predict that the “fear and loathing” attack campaign Obama used to rescue Sen. Michael Bennet’s reelection here in 2010 will become his own national theme against the GOP in 2012. If true, too bad. Such scaremongering demeans our intelligence and our backbone. Will Coloradans stand for it? Stay tuned.

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