Melanie Sturm | @ThinkAgainUSA
Last Saturday, as Americans debated whether Lance Armstrong was a genuine hero after dropping his fight with the US Anti-Doping Agency, another Armstrong – an undisputable American hero -- died. Were Webster’s to pair Neil Armstrong with hero in its dictionary, one needn’t Think Again to fathom the bravery, achievement, and nobility implied by the word.
By fulfilling President Kennedy’s audacious goal to have an American walk on the moon within the decade, Neil Armstrong is remembered for the skill, courage, grace under pressure, and innate humility necessary to achieve “one giant leap for mankind,” while crediting legions of dedicated others for the “one small step for man” he took on July 20, 1969. Upon fulfilling his mission, he didn’t spike the football or parlay fame into power or fortune. He receded into dignified private life to teach and inspire future generations.
In breaking the sad news, NBC’s Brian Williams asserted, “we have lost the last American hero,” as if surrendering America’s heroic destiny to our era’s chaos and controversy. Yet throughout our tumultuous history, Americans have proven “where there’s a will, there’s a way” -- starting with George Washington, who summoned heroism in his beleaguered troops by crossing the icy Delaware River enroute to American independence.
Though Thomas Jefferson warned “The natural progress of things is for liberty to yield, and government to gain ground,” our founders established “a government of the people, by the people, for the people,” knowing it was a precondition to a dynamic, prosperous and free society. We fought the Civil War so this American ideal wouldn’t perish from the earth. Now, with our faith in the American Dream rattled, we face another great challenge.
Today we suffer unprecedented levels of economic stagnation, long-term unemployment, and government dependency. Despite a record $830 billion stimulus enacted in February 2009, this recovery (which technically began in June 2009) is the weakest of the 11 tracked since World War II. Stimulus advocates promising the unemployment rate wouldn’t exceed 8 percent (though it has for 42 consecutive months), were also wrong in forecasting a 5.5 percent rate by now.
Even since the “recovery’s” start, economic trends have deteriorated: the ranks of the long-term unemployed grew by 800,000; those no longer in the labor force increased 8 million; and food stamp spending doubled to $85 billion. New York Times economics columnist Catherine Rampell reported that median household incomes declined more (4.8 percent) during the “recovery” -- even among the continuously employed -- than they fell (2.8 percent) during the preceding 18-month recession. Consequently, 85 percent of the much-discussed American middle class report that it’s now harder to maintain their standard of living, according to Pew Research.
Humorist PJ O’Rourke said, “giving money and power to government is like giving whiskey and car keys to teenage boys.” Refusing to relinquish their intoxicating power to spend and borrow, political leaders have subverted the national interest by causing four consecutive trillion-dollar deficits. With government spending at stratospheric levels, we charge $41,222 to our children’s credit card every second. At $16 trillion, our national debt is up 50 percent since January 2009, exceeding the size of our economy. When added to future Medicare and Social Security claims, it totals $136 trillion -- an incomprehensible, indefensible, and morally reprehensible sum.
Anyone who’s balanced a checkbook -- or watched events unfold in Europe -- understands that red ink turns to blood, particularly when interest rates rise above historic lows. So, how can we trust leaders who won’t see and aren’t planning to avert the fiscal black hole toward which we’re rocketing? Shouldn’t we urge courageous leaders to redirect our perilous trajectory toward a safe landing?
As the cliché goes, “if we can send a man to the moon,” we can restore America’s promise to secure a more stable and prosperous future. After instituting reforms to entitlement programs and its tax code, Canada achieved a remarkable economic turnaround, and so can we. It will require a Kennedy-esque leader to define the challenge as the fiscal equivalent of the moonshot, and to summon the political will for lift-off against fierce gravitational forces.
As a firm believer in Americans, Abraham Lincoln said, “If given the truth, they can be depended upon to meet any national crisis. The great point is to bring them the real facts.” Eager for blast off is a nation of unassuming and reluctant heroes – ordinary Americans. Spoken to like adults, and with the facts in hand, we have the “right stuff” to enable another “giant leap for mankind.” If this isn’t our generation’s most important mission, what is?
Think Again – our children need us to be their heroes.
Melanie Sturm | @ThinkAgainUSA
The French celebrated Bastille Day last week, 219 years after beheading Marie-Antoinette in the French Revolution’s Reign of Terror. To this day, she’s the poster-child for upper-class excess, entitlement and insensitivity -- the ultimate “1 Percenter.”
However, Think Again before believing every demonization you hear, especially without factcheck.org. In truth, though a privileged aristocrat, Marie-Antoinette was not only a faithful Good Samaritan, she actually never uttered the notorious catchphrase “Let them eat cake.” Never mind those silly details -- social justice was at stake!
By portraying Marie-Anoinette as selfish and out-of-touch, the revolutionaries justified their bloodthirsty mob rule and indiscriminate savagery. Declaring “liberty, equality and fraternity,” they ushered in an anti-democratic period of unlimited governmental power, civil strife, and economic despair, though eventually Enlightenment principles transformed France into a vibrant democracy.
Today, France has Europe’s most state-directed economy, and among its most stagnant and indebted. Prioritizing “the collective interest,” the French prefer government to free market solutions spending more on social welfare than any other developed country. Recently, the anti-wealth rhetoric of newly elected President Hollande -- and his plans to hike taxes – made London the sixth largest French city, to its mayor’s delight.
Similarly Enlightenment-inspired, though resentful of strong government, American revolutionaries devised a system to protect individual liberties. James Madison wrote, “If men were angels, no government would be necessary. If angels were to govern men… controls on government would (not) be necessary. In framing a government… you must first enable the government to control the governed; and in the next place oblige it to control itself.”
While the French were sticking dissenters’ heads on bayonets, Americans enacted a Constitution designed to disperse authority in order to protect the moral promise in our Declaration of Independence: that every individual is born with equal and inalienable rights to life, liberty, property, and the pursuit of happiness. Thus, the American Revolution facilitated the creation of the freest and most prosperous society on earth.
Over the last century, while America’s free economy boomed attracting immigrants to our opportunity society, politicians were busy encumbering it, à la française. They instituted the income tax, asserted extra-constitutional powers to regulate, dabbled in cronyism and created entitlement programs that now consume 65 percent of the federal budget. Once 3 percent of gross domestic product, government spending is now 25 percent, crowding out the private economy and producing daily deficits of $4 billion.
Consequently, we suffer French-size economic stagnation, unemployment, and debt (up 50 percent since January 2009). Poverty rates are the highest since tracking began in 1959; food stamp dependency is exploding; and the percentage of Americans with a job is the lowest in decades. Not surprisingly, two-thirds of Americans say we’re on the wrong track and that there’s too much government power and too little individual freedom.
Meanwhile, clueless that government policies influence economic decisions, politicians now propose increasing taxes. “Taxmageddon” -- the toxic mix of year-end tax increases – is causing businesses to defer hiring and investment. Even if limited to the top two-percent with incomes over $250,000 (which includes small businesses responsible for half of private sector jobs and $720 billion in earnings), tax increases would create serious recessionary headwinds while funding only 8.5 days of federal spending, per the Congressional Budget Office. This is a blueprint to cripple job creation, and 23 million job-seeking Americans.
Though they agreed it was economically injurious to hike taxes in 2010 when the economy was growing at twice its current rate, tax-hikers argue it’s now about fairness while referencing the “roaring 90’s” when rates were higher but before explosions in spending, debt, and stagnation. What's fair about increasing taxes knowing the vulnerable will suffer disproportionately?
What is fair considering 2009 IRS data shows the top one-percent and top five-percent paid 37 percent and 64 percent respectively of federal income taxes, while the bottom half paid two percent? If the richest aren’t yet paying their fair share, doesn’t that suggest they don’t merit their earned success? By denying some Americans their earned success, doesn’t that undermine our opportunity society and social cohesion?
Having migrated toward French values, practices and even their anti-wealth rhetoric, its hard to recall our Founders' belief that government’s role is to protect – not grant -- individual rights and property. To reinvigorate our free society and market economy, we need a true “fairness agenda”: a simpler tax code with fewer special interest loopholes, no more corporate welfare, and reforms that preserve entitlement programs for future generations.
Most importantly, we must recover the private initiative that French historian Alexis de Tocqueville found exceptional in 1830s America: ““In every case at the head of any new undertaking, where in France you would find the government ... in America you’re sure to find an association.”
By renewing our commitment to individual liberties and the ethic that each of us – not government -- is our brother’s keeper, Americans “have it in our power to begin the world all over again,” as American revolutionary Thomas Paine wrote.
Wouldn’t our Founders want us to Think Again?
Melanie Sturm | @ThinkAgainUSA
Last week after his criminal trial ended with a hung jury, John Edwards proclaimed hopefully, “I don’t think God is through with me,” as he planted the seeds for his comeback. Projecting the false modesty and manufactured authenticity that vaulted the one-term Senator toward the Presidency, Edwards personifies Graucho Marx’s maxim that “the secret to life is honesty and fair dealing. If you can fake that, you've got it made."
In response to Edwards, I imagined a collective uproar: “Think Again, John -- the jig is up!” As Edwards exits stage left, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker takes center stage. He, along with brave governors in New Jersey, Indiana, South Carolina, Louisiana, and possibly even New York, represent a new breed of leader emboldened to end public sector unions’ stranglehold on our governments and economy.
Putting aside Edwards’ despicable personal conduct, he is emblematic of the corrupt patronage system that Governor Scott Walker ended in Wisconsin -- the one that allows government unions to cement relationships with self-serving politicians, leaving taxpayers unrepresented and rendering many states insolvent. By voting decisively to retain Walker (the only US governor to survive a recall), Cheeseheads declared the jig is finally up for this brand of special-interest cronyism and the politicians who perpetuate it – at least in Wisconsin.
The truth is, public-sector unions don’t serve a compelling social need since governments don’t exploit labor for profits. Furthermore, as Franklin Roosevelt cautioned, “the process of collective bargaining…. cannot be transplanted into the public service...[without risking] paralysis of government by those who have sworn to support it.” Realizing this, President Carter reduced collective-bargaining rights for federal employees by signing the Civil Service Reform Act.
It’s ironic that public sector unions met their match in Wisconsin, the birthplace of American progressivism and public sector unionism where roughly two-thirds of voters either are or are related to union members. Now, progressive Wisconsin is proof that the crisis of the modern entitlement state being played out worldwide -- from the Eurozone to California -- doesn’t have to be a Greek tragedy.
In Wisconsin, even union sympathizers realize everyone is ill served when the government can't meet its obligations. They know the promises politicians make far exceed our ability to pay and, watching Europe implode from the same disorder, realize there is only one choice -- reduced yet sustainable government or bankruptcy. Wisconsin voted for balance knowing the essential first step on the path to prosperity and opportunity is for governments to recover fiscal soundness.
That was Walker’s pledge in 2010. Facing the fourth highest tax burden in the country and determined to reverse Wisconsin’s $3.6 billion deficit without raising taxes or firing workers, Walker’s reforms disallowed collective bargaining for public-employee unions (except police and firefighters). No longer can unions negotiate their taxpayer-funded benefits with politicians they helped elect using mandatory dues. Additionally, Walker asked government employees to contribute modestly more to their health and retirement benefits. Even after these reforms, Wisconsin workers enjoy “a combined salary-benefits compensation premium of around 22 percent over private sector workers,” according to an American Enterprise Institute study released last month.
Though modest, the unions and their allies reacted ferociously to these reforms, like a mama bear defending her cub. They captured national attention with protests, runaway state senators, legal challenges and state senator recall elections. Despite their efforts, they couldn’t overcome the will of the people -- to keep the reforms.
That’s because Walker’s reforms are succeeding: The budget has a $150 million surplus; property taxes are lower; the unemployment rate is 6.8 percent (the lowest since 2008 and well below the national average); the private sector created 26,000 jobs in 2011; and savings realized by school districts have preserved jobs and educational programming. Most encouraging, according to a Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce survey in May, 73 percent of employers predicted moderate to good business growth and more than half plan to expand operations within two years – the highest rate in a decade.
No wonder one-third of union members voted for Walker, according to exit polls. Seeing union policies drain government finances, endanger vital government services, and undermine their own jobs and benefits, why would union members want to pay their dues? Now that they have the option not to, tens of thousands have opted out. Perhaps this is the best outcome of all, for civil society is healthier when government employees believe they’re on the same side as taxpayers.
As CS Lewis said, “We all want progress, but if you're on the wrong road, progress means doing an about-turn and walking back to the right road; in that case, the man who turns back soonest is the most progressive.”
Though it’s too late for Edwards, other self-proclaimed “progressives” must Think Again – good policy makes great politics.
Melanie Sturm | @ThinkAgainUSA
When Gloria Steinem popularized the saying “a woman needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle”, I wasn’t old enough to wear a bra, never mind burn it. However, thanks to that feminist credo and its infiltration of 1970s popular culture, women of my generation grew up believing we could make it on our own, like Mary Tyler Moore. While her theme song cautioned, “this world is awfully big, girl,” our confidence rose with Mary’s cap, tossed triumphantly to “you’re going to make it after all.”
Indeed, we did make it, though presidential campaign operatives peddling the “War on Women” narrative want you to Think Again. They insist it’s a war on women when it’s actually a war for women’s votes. This month’s political ad, “The Life of Julia,” occasions the question: which voter are they after, Georgia in Greece or Mary in Minneapolis?
Julia is a single, faceless cartoon – evidently an American everywoman – who depends on European-like, cradle-to-grave government assistance from pre-school through retirement. As if being tethered to a dependency-inducing nanny-state were attractive to American women (or plausible given mounting debt) Julia, like her entitled European cousin, is the anti-Mary -- she can’t make it on her own.
Sadly, this government-centered and soul-deadening narrative is as false and harmful to women as the notion that we should be barefoot and pregnant in the kitchen. Both beget a toxic cocktail of subservience, loss of identity and worthlessness -- the antithesis of feminism. Franklin Roosevelt cautioned that dependence “induces a spiritual and moral disintegration fundamentally destructive to the national fiber”…and “the human spirit.”
The antidote to “learned helplessness” and its corollary unhappiness is “earned success”, according to economist Arthur Brooks, President of American Enterprise Institute and happiness authority. In his new book “The Road to Freedom,” Brooks explains, “people crave earned success, which comes from achievement, not a check. It’s the freedom to be an individual and to delineate your life’s ‘profit’”…whether measured in money, “making beautiful art, saving people’s souls, or pulling kids out of poverty.”
Earned success is what our Founders meant by “the pursuit of happiness” which is America’s “moral promise” to its citizens. Brooks praises the Founders’ visionary insight because “allowing us to earn our success is precisely what gives each of us the best chance at achieving real happiness,” and his data proves it.
Feminists understood earned success knowing self-reliance and freedom would yield more choices, achievement, self-respect and fulfillment if women had a level playing field. Now, four decades since Helen Reddy sang “I am Woman,” women are “The Richer Sex” -- the book by Liza Mundy documenting women’s economic advancement. The New York Times book review noted: women hold 51 percent of management and professional jobs; wives at least co-earn in two-thirds of marriages; and women earn 57 percent of bachelor’s degrees and comprise 60 percent of graduate students.
Meanwhile, according to a March National Journal poll, three-quarters of women believe they can advance as far as their talents take them. Not surprisingly, women account for seven of the top 10 spots on Forbes 2012 World’s Most Powerful Celebrities list including the top two, Jennifer Lopez and Oprah Winfrey.
Despite these spectacular achievements, economic stagnation makes otherwise self-sufficient women – especially single ones -- insecure and uncertain. Preying on this anxiety, ambitious politicians cast themselves as compassionate by promising a lifetime of government benefits to a nation of Julia’s. Considering the tortuous unraveling of the Eurozone, this idea is both fantasy and dangerous.
In Europe, hopelessly large social security and entitlement promises exceed governments’ ability to tax and borrow, crushing those who believed economic security is a basic human right. Yet, as European leaders grapple with resentments caused by austerity measures, American politicians make the same promises that precipitated Europe’s crisis.
Brooks would argue that even Julia knows it’s wrong to make promises you don’t intend to keep. He warns, “Americans today are experiencing a low-grade, virtual servitude to an ever-expanding, unaccountable government that…. has created a protected class of government workers and crony corporations that play by a different set of rules … and has consequently left the nation in hock for generations to come.”
Thankfully, American women are watching and willing to act. According to a Rasmussen poll released this week, nearly two-thirds of women (and men) prefer a government with fewer services and lower taxes. So rather than foster dependency, why not encourage the fiercely independent and self-reliant ethic that originally motivated feminists and propelled women’s economic advancement?
The real war on women is the one waged by those whose policies undermine our economy thus limiting everyone’s choices, mobility and independence. As for Julia, she’d be better served by policies that empower her as an individual, not ones that encourage reliance on government.
Think Again, Julia – you can “make it on your own.”
Melanie Sturm | @ThinkAgainUSA
Politicians are like New Year's revelers whose resolutions to get fit are as habitual as their unhealthy lifestyles. The most undisciplined merrymaker continually ups the weight-loss ante —10 pounds last year, 20 pounds this year — just as undisciplined politicians alleging fiscal prudence have upped their borrowing limit 4,967 percent since 1962, 67 percent since 2009.
Melanie Sturm | @ThinkAgainUSA
“They tried to make me go to rehab but I said no, no, no,” British singer-sensation Amy Winehouse sang before joining Jim Morrison, Jimi Hendrix and Janis Joplin in the “Dead at 27” Club. Seeing the media atwitter over the “Euro Crisis” makes me think Winehouse's unfortunate demise is a metaphor for what ails Europe.
Melanie Sturm | @ThinkAgainUSA
Winston Churchill famously quipped, “However beautiful the strategy, you should occasionally look at the results.” What could be more beautiful, never mind seductive, than the strategy to promote renewable energies and a “green economy,” heralded as cure-alls for America's greatest challenges, most particularly economic stagnation?