(Denver Post, July 24) Will Barack Obama go the way of Jimmy Carter, and lose reelection after demonstrating weak leadership in a troubled economy? One Coloradan with a keen nose for the political wind signaled last week that he thinks it might happen. Gov. John Hickenlooper told a reporter the president would “have a hard time” carrying our state right now, because “there’s such dissatisfaction over people who have been out of work” for months or even years. Though Hick’s warning wasn’t an outright prediction of Obama’s defeat, it’s significant because Colorado is widely considered a must-win if he is to hold the White House. If voters throw out the incumbent, it will be as much because of conclusions we the people have reached about ourselves, as because of anything we conclude about the Democratic president and his Republican challenger, whoever that may be.
We’ll have realized that “consent of the governed” is a responsibility for each of us, not just a mass wave swept along by partisan currents and media gales. Again in 2012, as in 1980 when Carter was ousted, Americans will have decided it’s grab the steering wheel or crash. The leadership reversal we could see next year would simply be the culmination of a citizenship resurgence that began a year or two ago.
The Tea Party movement, consciously echoing the determined citizens who resisted royal oppression and later wrote consent into the Declaration of Independence, is the most potent force for reassertion of America’s founding principles since the Reaganauts of the 1970s refused to believe our best days were behind us. Its emergence in 2009 answered my hope, expressed in several 2007 columns, for a responsibility movement to challenge both parties and reach beyond them.
The conscience our self-government has long lacked is awake again at last. A GOP president taking office in 2013, if such occurs, would find himself or herself equally under the skeptical Tea Party eye as the GOP Congress does now. The new political mandate is to do the right thing; not the easy or customary thing, but the right thing and nothing less. What a welcome change, and just in time to save ourselves – if we still can.
Doing the right thing by choice, and then owning the consequences of your choice: that’s personal responsibility. There’s no other antidote to the debt candy and the entitlement addiction gripping Democrats and Republicans alike. No other antidote to the fiscal deficits engulfing state and federal budgets. No other antidote to the moral deficit of throwaway marriages, negligent parenting, rigged school tests, hacked cell phones.
Deficits abound, but it’s ultimately the responsibility deficit that will sink us unless we get a grip. Its symptoms are everywhere – in dishonest pension promises, in Orwellian day-care regulations, in sanctimonious politicians with zippers down, in an Obamacare law that embeds big business and big labor with big government, waivers the connected, dehumanizes the patient, cooks the books, and calls it reform.
The American experiment asks a brilliant, daring question: How much success can freedom produce? The answer, for the first two centuries, was an astounding amount. But the 1960s and ‘70s revealed a serpent in the garden. We learned that freedom and success can be their own worst enemies. Responsibility has to temper and guide them. History’s drama turns on our continually forgetting and relearning that.
It was responsibility reborn in citizens’ hearts and minds, not mere electoral victories, that turned twilight in America after Vietnam, Watergate, assassinations, and stagflation into morning in America with booming growth, renewed confidence, and Cold War victory.
Another responsibility movement seems to be stirring today. It didn’t start in Washington; they never do. The Washington crowd will either catch on or catch hell. Time is short. History’s drama heightens.