- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 30, 2009


When America came onto the world stage in 1776, we sent the British packing, formed a constitutional republic and were soon off and running. America was fast and confident. No other country could even come close to the strength and speed of our military, our economy or our culture.

Americans valued their freedom above all else. No nation in history had ever made freedom work so well. We truly became “The City on the Hill” that attracted envy and immigrants from every country in the world. But in 1929, America came upon a chasm, the Great Depression, and it was made even wider and deeper by World War II.

As Americans lost confidence in our free-enterprise economic system and our ability to cross this chasm, the federal government came to our rescue. At first, the expanding federal role seemed harmless enough, and the people were safely positioned far away from the fox’s mouth, like in the fable of “The Gingerbread Man.” But as America endured one politically manufactured “crisis” after another, the fox has invited us to move ever closer to his mouth.

Today, Americans, along with all our hopes and dreams, are perched on the tip of the fox’s nose. We are in the middle of what seems like a deep river, and we’re not sure we can swim. Now is the time for Americans to decide, once again, to fight for freedom.

Faith and values: Americans value faith, family and freedom. Many still remember that freedom springs from a foundation connected by faith, values, principles, effective public policies and responsible actions by government and the people based on good policies. Good policies are developed from enduring principles guided by heartfelt values. Americans value strong faith and character, hard work, personal responsibility, self-reliance, discipline, competition, charity, fairness and achievement. Values originate from what people believe, especially what they believe about God.

“Private values,” said President Reagan in his 1986 State-of-the-Union message, “must be at the heart of public policy,” Daniel Yankelovich and Sidney Harman observed in their 1988 book, “Starting With the People.”

Mr. Reagan won the hearts and votes of the American people by shifting the debate from myriad confusing political issues to values Americans recognized immediately as their own. He made us believe we could get across any river on our own. Mr. Reagan convinced Americans freedom would work for everyone and that the big-government welfare state was just a fox clothed in deceptive political promises.

Unfortunately, the cause of freedom has had too few articulated champions since Mr. Reagan. Republican leaders have continued to embrace his policies rhetorically but have forgotten that the appeal of those policies was derived from their connection to the consensus values of the voters. They seem to have forgotten that America did not become the greatest country in the world because of the legislative process or even the people’s right to vote. America became great because the people who voted had character, integrity and strong values. They translated these personal values into principles and policies that protected freedom and allowed it to work.

Maintaining stability and strength in a diverse and dynamic nation like the United States requires leaders who can maintain a consensus among our citizens about faith, values, principles and policies. There will always be tension because values conflict, even those values held by the same individual.

Americans want to reduce wasteful spending and the size of government, but they also want to maintain costly social programs. They want to reduce costly farm subsidies, but save the small farmer. They want to eliminate the welfare state, but help the poor. They want to crack down on crime by throwing more criminals in jail, but they don’t want to build more prisons (especially in their own backyards), as the Yankelovich-Harman book noted. They want everyone to have health care, but do not want to pay more taxes for government-run health care.

Political leaders since Mr. Reagan have destroyed our national consensus by disconnecting our beliefs and values from national policy, and by telling Americans we can have it all without making the difficult choices.

Even Mr. Reagan, who boldly proved the principles of free-market capitalism and peace through strength, failed to make some of the tough choices of leadership. To get his priorities through a Democrat Congress, he sacrificed his promise “to check and reverse the growth of government” and to reduce our dependence on foreign oil. He left the nation with skyrocketing deficits and more dependency on foreign governments for our energy, as observed by Andrew J. Bacevich in “The Limits of Power: The End of American Exceptionalism.”

While conservatives should not naively romanticize Mr. Reagan as the perfect leader, we can claim an important distinction between Mr. Reagan and other presidents of this generation: He made it clear the government was not the answer to our problems or the means to our prosperity. The “you-can-have-it-all-and-the-government-will-guarantee-it” political leaders since Mr. Reagan have fundamentally changed the American mindset.

For an increasing number of citizens, the essence of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness now centers on a relentless personal quest to acquire, to consume, to indulge and to shed whatever constraints might interfere with those endeavors, as Mr. Bacevich stated. Any interruption in this quest elicits an immediate kneejerk response from federal politicians who promise to “bail us out” with more spending and debt.

Washington politicians have told us we can have low taxes, a balanced budget, a strong military and unlimited “compassionate” federal spending. We have been told we can ban the development of America’s energy resources and still have plenty of low-cost gas and electricity. We have been told the government can guarantee mortgages for low income Americans without disrupting the financial markets.

We have been told we can tax, regulate and sue our businesses more than any other country in the world and still be competitive in a global economy. We have been told the government can set health care prices and heavily regulate health care services and still have an efficient, affordable private health care system. We have been told we can spend every dime we take from workers’ paychecks for Social Security and Medicare and still keep our promises to seniors.

We have been told we can ban religion, prayer and faith from schools, business and public places and continue to be a strong and moral nation. We have been told we can educate our children in godless government schools and still have responsible, productive citizens. We have been told we can subsidize unwed births and teach safe sex to teenagers, and still maintain strong families and a commitment to the institution of marriage. We have been told what cannot possibly be!

Now, as we end the first decade of the 21st century, the wheels have come off. The word crisis comes up as regularly as the sun. We have a crisis in the auto industry, the financial markets, education, health care, energy, housing, the economy, transportation, Social Security, Medicare, government spending, national debt … there is almost no area of American life that politicians and the media are not telling us is in crisis.

Sen. Jim DeMint is a South Carolina Republican.

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