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Principled Leadership Necessary for American Exceptionalism

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of Townhall.com.

At critical times through our nation’s history, principled and courageous men have stood up and lead our country towards greatness. Our Founding Fathers declared their independence from Britain and created our Constitution – the greatest governing document we have ever seen. From those early leaders to Ronald Reagan, who most recently advanced freedom in our nation, great men have, at critical times, emerged to save America, “the last great hope of mankind.”

Most, if not all, Americans realize our country is today at a crossroads. We are faced with an ever growing and more powerful central government, rapidly increasing debt and vigorous competition from abroad. America is once again in need of a courageous and principled leader.

America, both as an idea and in practice, has always been about individuals, not an all powerful central government. Rugged individualism and an unwavering entrepreneurial spirit are what made America exceptional. Yet, in recent years, we have moved away from those founding principles.

Take, for example, the individual mandate contained within President Obama’s hostile takeover of health care. By wide margins, Americans have rejected the individual mandate. It will fundamentally alter the relationship between an individual and the government. If government can require an individual to buy health insurance, where does it stop? Can it dictate what we eat? How often we exercise? A lawmaker in South Dakota has already highlighted this issue by proposing legislation requiring individuals over the age of 21 to buy a firearm. Shockingly, liberals haven’t embraced that idea.

The growth of government does not come cheap. During the past decade, our national debt has exploded from less than $6 trillion in 2001 to more than $14 trillion today. The level of debt is quickly becoming unsustainable, especially given our massive unfunded liabilities.

If we continue down our current path, America’s AAA credit rating may be jeopardized. That would increase the cost of borrowing and dramatically weaken our already depressed economy.

Last week, we saw the House of Representatives take an important (albeit relatively small) first step towards addressing our nation’s coming fiscal crisis, by making actual cuts to our nation’s non-security discretionary spending. However, as many pundits correctly noted, the reductions are modest (not even back to 2008 levels) and only cover a sliver of the massive $3.7 trillion budget.

Many analysts also correctly noted that President Obama failed to take these challenges head on in his budget. Rather than leading, he offered lots of hopeful rhetoric in an attempt to obscure the lack of change. In his budget, spending increases, deficits mount, taxes rise and entitlements remain untouched.

Winning the future does not, as the President suggests, require massive government intervention and spending. America can out-innovate, out-educate, out-produce any country in the world so long as the private sector is given room to do so.

The heavy hand of government did not turn America into the single greatest nation ever known to mankind. Men and women who were willing to take enormous risks built our nation from the ground up – risks that had no government back stop.

America’s next President must recapture the entrepreneurial spirit of America.

To do that, he or she must diverge sharply from the status quo. There is simply too much at stake to go pandering state-to-state, demographic-to-demographic or interest group-to-interest group.

A candidate cannot travel to Iowa and tout ethanol subsidies, then to Pennsylvania to promote steel tariffs and then to Florida to promise a federal backstop for homeowners insurance.

And a candidate most certainly cannot ignore our entitlement programs. Wthout major changes to entitlements, we are condemning our children and grandchildren to a future of servicing the debt on the programs we are unwilling to pay for.

Courageous and principled leaders are difficult to find. All too often politicians prefer to take the path of least resistance and play it safe. But, as we’ve seen over the past month and a half, things are slowly starting to change in Washington. Instead of talking about new programs and how to divvy up more money, many politicians are talking about the proper role of government and what programs should be eliminated.

The challenge of the 2012 election will be to keep building upon this momentum.

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