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Our challenge in 2012 is one we did not face in 1980 or in any election since. We have to convince Americans to nominate and elect candidates, from president on down the line, who can handle these uncomfortable truths about where we are as a nation and what needs to be done now, not later.

That means change in the way business in Washington has been done under both parties ever since Ronald Reagan. (And if that’s a tea party position, then so be it.)

Too many of our candidates today are already falling into the trap of sound-bite solutions. At the recent Conservative Political Action Conference gathering, I listened to all of the candidates’ speeches. If I had closed my eyes and just heard the words, I couldn’t have told them apart. Answers, yes. But did what they said pass the “truth” test?

We’re going to have to work harder, expect less and pay more if we’re going to compete again in the world economy.

The cutback in government that we are demanding means cutting back on all the programs that we have come to expect as “entitlements.” In fact, we will have to stop thinking of them as entitlements, and recognize that we are entitled to a lot less than our inflated egos think we are.

We’re in a mess around the world, and we’d better start thinking of how we’re going to get out of the middle of every family squabble where the combatants want us as referee - and want us to pay for it.

We’re sitting on the largest energy reserves in the world in oil, shale, natural gas and coal. Are we tough enough to finally demand that our security and energy needs are more important than the claptrap we’re going to get from the Chicken Littles who want to keep our resources locked up?

It’s hard to tell these truths to people who don’t want to hear them: the American optimists, just like Ronald Reagan. But if we don’t, then we’re no better than the audacious people who are now out there spreading more than just answers on the landscape of America. Do we believe, with Lt. Kaffee, that the American people “want the truth” or do we believe, with Col. Jessep, that they “can’t handle the truth”? We’ll soon find out.

Larry L. Eastland is a bishop in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and a member of the board of the American Conservative Union.