Melanie Sturm
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO, Colorado

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September 12, 2012
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Melanie Sturm: Think Again

Mark Twain famously remarked, "No man's life, liberty, or property are safe while the Legislature is in session." So when U.S. Senate candidate Elizabeth Warren, of Massachusetts, proclaimed that "the system is rigged" in her prime-time speech at the Democratic Convention - Bill Clinton's warm-up act - it appeared that she agreed with Twain and 69 percent of Americans who believe that "politicians break the rules to help people who give them money," according to a Rasmussen poll in August.

Before assuming that Warren blames politicians for rigging the system, Think Again. In fact, as an advocate of an assertive and growing federal government run by benevolent and enlightened policymakers, Warren is out of sync with Mark Twain, public opinion and America's founders, who feared a system rigged by powerful elites, like the British one they overturned.

When Thomas Jefferson asked if a "man cannot be trusted with the government of himself, can he then be trusted with the government of others," he expressed our founders' concern that future politicians would encroach on our newly declared natural rights and liberties, leading America into "debt, corruption and rottenness." Hence, our founders designed a government with limited powers to serve - not rule - the people, and to protect our inalienable rights, not confer privileges to special interests.

Today, our founders' worst nightmares are reality - the system indeed is rigged. The government's share of the economy has exploded to 25 percent, dampening the private sector as powerful politicians allow favored beneficiaries to feed at the federal trough. The negative returns from these policies Warren calls "investments" have pushed America down the global-competitiveness rankings - from No. 1 in 2008 to No. 7 today, according to the newly released World Economic Forum report that blames unsustainable debt, cronyism, regulation and economic stagnation for the fall.

Politicians promised that "investments" such as the 2009 stimulus would revive our economy and reduce unemployment, and yet $830 billion later, we're worse off. Even since the official start of the "recovery" in June 2009, economic growth is 40 percent of the historical average for post-recession rebounds; the percentage of Americans with a job is the lowest in decades, and the real unemployment rate is 19 percent, as four times more workers left the work force last month than entered it; median household income is down sharply, while food stamp usage and federal disability checks have skyrocketed; and poverty rates are near a 50-year high.

As she laments the suffering middle class, why doesn't Warren evaluate whether the activist government policies she advocates actually underlie this despair? Shouldn't she query why the president's 2013 federal budget garnered no votes in Congress and why the Senate has failed for the fourth consecutive year to uphold its constitutional duty to pass a budget?

She'd find politicians fearful of endorsing a budget that borrows $1.3 trillion to fund the government, after paying for mandatory expenditures such as Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid and interest on the debt. But as federal debt spiked $5.4 trillion since January 2009, topping $16 trillion last week - a sum one-quarter of the combined gross domestic product of every country in the world - why isn't Warren proposing a plan to avert the looming fiscal crisis?

Unless reformed, Social Security and Medicare won't exist for younger generations. Nevertheless, Warren ignores this tragedy, preferring to wax eloquent about "a level playing field where everyone pays a fair share and everyone has a real shot" because "the economy doesn't grow from the top down, but from the middle class out and the bottom up." But how do we secure a middle class out of government jobs paid for with borrowed dollars? Does our undisciplined, indebted and special-interest-oriented government subvert the private economy, undermining the middle class and those who aspire to it?

This is the argument of Sen. Tom Coburn's book "The Debt Bomb," endorsed by Alan Simpson and Erskine Bowles, on whose fiscal commission he served. Contrary to the narrative that blames lobbyists and gridlock, Coburn contends, "Congress has been an assembly line of new programs and a favor factory for special interests. Our economy is on the brink of collapse not because politicians can't agree but because they have agreed for decades ... to borrow and spend far beyond our means ... to create or expand nearly forty entitlement programs, carve out tax advantages for special interests, build bridges to nowhere and earmark tens of thousands of other pork projects."

Eager to prevent an economic calamity worse than 2008, Coburn urges Americans to drain Washington's stagnant pond, refilling it with public servants committed to unrigging the system that's left millions of Americans "on their own," deprived of jobs and hopes of finding one. Without a plan to solve our economic and fiscal woes, Warren is an accomplice to the rigged system she denounces.

Think Again, Elizabeth Warren - telling the truth and taking responsibility distinguish great leaders from mere politicians.


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The Aspen Times Updated Sep 13, 2012 07:01AM Published Sep 12, 2012 10:58PM Copyright 2012 The Aspen Times. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.