Victor Davis Hanson

Second, as a nation of debtors, we are renting money from Asia to buy its exports with our credit cards. Given our talents and natural wealth, we could easily consume more than others in the world and still balance the books. But Americans cannot charge all that we desire on unlimited credit. Surely one of our presidential candidates can warn the American people to save a little more, use our credit cards a little less and pay off what we already owe.

Third, the government can only hand out more entitlements by borrowing even more to pay for them. Raising taxes on anyone in a recession is insane. But even crazier is cutting them further at a time of skyrocketing national debt without commensurate reductions in spending.

So who will tell the people that we can't raise - or reduce - taxes and that we can't borrow for any more new programs until we first cut expenses and begin paying off the trillions we've already borrowed?

In a hugely productive economy that creates each year some $13 trillion of goods and services, the government has the resources to make real headway in paying down our $10 trillion national debt in relatively short order - if we have leaders brave enough to quit promising to spend a few more hundred billion here and there that we simply don't have.

Fourth, will some candidate explain to the wheeler-dealer public that most real estate is not going to double or triple in value every few years? Instead, houses should once again be seen as homes to live in, rather than investments to get rich from.

If 70 percent of the American people scrimp to buy a home, we can't endanger their financial solvency by waiving the rules for others, who can't or won't pay the mortgage debts they freely incurred. It's time to tell the public that you must budget to buy a house, see it as a place to raise a family and pay the mortgage you took on. And if that's not possible, then keep renting.

The problems on Wall Street, our energy woes, the election-year fight over taxes versus more programs, and the housing crash have one common denominator: massive debt. They are simply the collective reflections of our own spendthrift habits of buying things with borrowed money that we now either can't or don't want to pay back.

In this year's presidential race, the honest candidate who stops promising endless bailouts and has the guts to lead us out of debt could well end up winning.

Victor Davis Hanson

Victor Davis Hanson is a classicist and historian at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University, and a recipient of the 2007 National Humanities Medal.