THE BLOG
11/06/2012 06:13 pm ET | Updated Jan 06, 2013

America Isn't Free

Freedom isn't free is more catchy, but misses my broader point.

America isn't free. But we like to pretend that it is. We hate to even approach the premise, but here goes.

1) Having a republic requires an informed electorate. While an autocracy (like China) gets results much, much, much quicker, a democratic republic is supposed to be better long-term. It serves the greater good and prevents "absolute power from corrupting absolutely." As a tradeoff for this advantage, we get more mess and it requires voters to pay attention. That's the cost: we're supposed to pay with our attention, so we can have informed judgments that we vote with. Reflecting how badly we've failed in this regard, are our terrible soundbite-driven, billion dollar elections. That's what my book is all about.

2) We tax like a small government, and spend like a large one*. Think back to the wars in Afghanistan or Iraq. Or the prescription drug benefit for Medicare. Or, now, our sky high budget deficits. We have the lowest total tax rate in the world of all developed nations, yet spend massively on our military and all kinds of other programs. Do we complain? Yup. Do anything about it? Nope.

3) Some gave all. All gave some. I saw this phrase a lot during my campaign around Veteran events. It felt especially incongruous then, as it does today. Less than 1 percent of Americans serve in the military today, we don't share the financial burden through higher taxes when our nation is at war, we're "spared" from graphic wartime photos, and the media barely covers injuries and deaths. We're sheltered from all of it. Yet, it might be easier than any other point in history for a president to send Americans to war. Might this be because it impacts so few of us?

The idea of America as an exceptional nation is sacrosanct. We're like all other nations, except we're a cut above. Yet we demand this as fact, without wanting to pay any kind of price. The irony is that this flies in the face of the most American idea of all: the egalitarian idea that it's only our sacrifice and hard work that yields us results. You earn it. It's this that has incensed me. How we can remember this concept individually, but forget that it also has to apply collectively as a nation? It's why I literally spent five years thinking of this book, and finally spit it out over 2 months. America isn't free. And if she's going to stay special, we've got a whole lot of work to do.

Happy Election Day!

*I cribbed this perfect turn of phrase from the Economist presidential endorsement.