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From Oz to Obama

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

Many things remain perfectly normal.

For instance, I often lose my car keys and sometimes misplace my cell phone. The University of North Carolina is still good at basketball. My youngest almost always begs for a Slurpee or candy when we drop by 7-11, and my 17-year-old never laughs at my jokes.

But when I read the paper or turn on the radio or TV news, the world has been turned upside down. It’s as if I’ve slipped into a parallel universe.

I feel like Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz, wanting so badly to get back home.

Perhaps I feel this way because government officials — from President Barack Obama to the too-big-to-fail treasury secretary, from finger-pointing congressmen to my county commissioners — resemble “that man behind the curtain.”

I’ve worked hard to put a roof over our heads and two cars in the driveway. To save money for college. To fund retirement so my wife and I can enjoy our golden years. As much as our savings have been socked by the market collapse, I feel we can weather that catastrophe. It’s the government-created catastrophes that have followed and more that will follow that produce my fear.

Years of easy credit, wild lending, and deficit spending are said to be solved only by more of the same. Much more. And if that doesn’t work, even more than that.

What? Electroshock to the frog won't make it leap? Then super-size the stimulus. What? Not a twitch? Then super-dooper-super-size it, man, fast!

If we were suffering from a hangover after a night of heavy drinking and asked our leaders for a prescription, their debate would be between slapping back a half-dozen shots of rum the next morning or downing a whole bottle.

Uh, two bottles? Really?

The world has always been a strange place. Even John Maynard Keynes’s crazy ideas, though obviously misguided, were not totally surreal. The surrealism stems more from the constant repetition that no matter what the problem there can be only one solution: pump money to someone somewhere.

Or everyone everywhere.

Any failure of this brilliant strategy must be a failure of amount, of not pushing a large enough dose.

As a byproduct of the federal government taking over the economy, bailing out financial institutions and car companies and specifically AIG, we are now treated to an Orwellian “two-minute hate” at the AIG bonuses. Before that we were supposed to envy their corporate jets.

The simple solution to corporate excess is to make execs pay for their own excess. Not with tongue lashings added to billions in bailouts, but with going under. That is, with the real-world costs of failure. Had AIG been allowed to fail, these bonuses would not only not be paid by taxpayers, they would not be paid at all.

There are millions more frightening little signs of both the depth of the economic trouble and the ignorance and self-dealing of the political response to it. One was listening to Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao tell reporters, “We have lent a huge amount of money to the U.S., so of course we are concerned about the safety of our assets.”

It’s not that I blame him for worrying. I’m worried, too!

Truth is, I don’t want to be on the hook for trillions to anyone. Not my best friend or a malevolent loan shark. Though, if I had to borrow, I’d prefer my best friend, of course.

But I especially don’t want to borrow these trillions from China. Do you sleep well knowing that the Butchers of Beijing serve as our largest creditor?

We’re told that we need the Chinese rulers — that our standard of living in the greatest bastion of freedom in the history of the world is largely dependent on the friendly lending of these dictators. To whom my children and my grandchildren will be paying taxes to cover interest payments for the rest of their lives.

How to get back home? Well, Thomas Wolfe was right: “You can’t go home again.”

There never was a time when America shone as the fabled free city on a hill. If there really are conservatives out there who haven’t yet realized it: This is not an Obama problem.

Sure, Mr. Obama is actively making it worse — but with a ton of help from politicians and special interests of all stripes. Had Senator John McCain been elected, instead, or had some other usual suspect been rounded up to serve, it would play much the same.

The problem? Government grows like a cancer, destroying freedom and wealth and productivity. It metastasized into virtually every part of our body politic during George W. Bush’s eight years as president, most of it with a Congress in which Republicans controlled both chambers.

Yet, it isn’t just a W. problem, either. It is an age-old problem. Power corrupts — it has indeed corrupted Rs and Ds alike. Unless freedom is fiercely defended, it withers away.

I spend money every month on life insurance. Mainly because my wife tells me to, but also because if something should happen to me, I want my family to be okay. But when I think of my children and my grandchild, I’m not worried that they will suffer for lack of money. I worry they’ll suffer a much worse fate: lack of freedom.

I’d don Dorothy’s red shoes and click my heels like there were no tomorrow if that would take me to an America where freedom would be better protected and respected. But it won’t.

We have to fight our way — not back, but forward — to a country in which self-dealing politicians control less of our economy and less of our lives. 

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