Our dangerous experiment with freedom on the cheap

(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).

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