Aug 29 2011
President Barack Obama recently called the 16 months leading up to the 2012 election a critical period to “debate [our respective] vision[s] for America.” He noted that much of the debate will focus on government’s role “in creating the kind of growth that we need.”
The president seems to think he will win that debate. I say — and I hope every Republican candidate for president says: Bring it on.
It’s well past time to have a spirited debate over the proper role of government, and the proper reach of government into our lives. Clearly, there are two very different visions for what this role should be.
One vision assumes that government is the problem-solver of first, and last, resort. Every issue we face as individuals and as a nation should be addressed, controlled, regulated, overseen and “fixed” by the government.
Under this paradigm, we can restore economic prosperity only by maintaining or expanding the federal government’s current spending levels — even if it means we engage in perpetual, large-scale deficit spending.
The other vision rests on the opposite assumption: the firm conviction that individuals have sovereign rights and responsibilities to control their actions and their fate.
This vision holds that the private sector, not government, is the source of innovation, competition, growth and jobs. It holds that economic conditions will not improve until we take affirmative, deliberate steps to restrict Congress’s borrowing and spending practices.
Federal spending and government interference has so run amok that such steps must include a constitutional amendment requiring Congress to balance its budget and spend no more than a fixed percentage of gross domestic product.
Proponents of each vision can be found in both political parties.
The first approach has become familiar to us over many decades; many prefer it for that very reason. For incumbent federal office holders, this also has the added allure of protecting Washington’s existing power structure. Members of Congress are more powerful when they can borrow and spend unlimited sums of money — and therefore have a built-in reason to prefer the status quo.
The second approach, in contrast, would significantly limit the power wielded by each member of Congress and otherwise upset the status quo. Americans either love it or hate it for that very reason.
Most love it. According to a recent CNN poll, 75 percent of American voters agree that we need a balanced budget amendment.
This statistic is not just a statement by the American people about budgeting. It derives from the deeply held, deeply American dedication to self-reliance and responsible stewardship.
Balancing the national “check-book” is merely a symbol of a much larger responsibility: to prioritize; to understand that progress requires hard work and sacrifice, and to make the tough choices.
When faced with a crisis, Americans have a remarkable track-record for choosing well. We chose independence over British tyranny. We chose emancipation over slavery. We chose freedom over fascism. We chose equality over segregation.
The time has come for us to make another choice. To do that, we should ask ourselves: Has the “Washington knows best” approach, which inexorably leads to excessive borrowing and spending, made jobs more plentiful? Enhanced economic activity in America? Strengthened the dollar and our own purchasing power? Led to robust economic growth and expansion? Improved our outlook for future prosperity? Or not?
Never have freedom and prosperity been so thoroughly intertwined. Never have both of them been more threatened. We have a chance to save them both. Let’s not waste it.