Undecideds: Please read this before voting

David Cohen Former Deputy Assistant Sec. of the Interior
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Dear Undecided Voter:

Given that you’re an undecided voter, you probably don’t believe those who keep saying that this is “the most important election of our lifetime.” I’m sure that sounds like political hyperbole to you. It isn’t. This is indeed the most important election of our lifetime, and I say that with confidence without even knowing how old you are. In a nutshell: Re-electing President Obama will lock us into a course that will lead us to fiscal collapse, place unimaginable burdens on our children and destroy the ability of government to protect our interests around the world and the most vulnerable here at home. Before you dismiss that as mere partisanship, please take a few moments to read my explanation.

Our debt is simply unsustainable, and the consequences will eventually devastate us — perhaps sooner rather than later. In September, the federal government’s debt passed the $16 trillion mark for the first time in history. Our debt now exceeds the total value of everything our economy produces in an entire year. We now spend over $200 billion each year just to pay interest on our federal debt. A good chunk of that money goes overseas to China and other lenders. That’s money we can’t use to help the poor, help seniors, educate kids, protect our safety or do anything else that we may want our government to do. The path we’re on will cause our annual interest payments to soar to almost $1 trillion in a decade. By that time, we’d be wasting almost 20 percent more in interest payments than we’d be paying to help seniors through Medicare.

As bad as that sounds, it’s actually much worse: The federal government’s “unfunded liabilities” — the amounts it’s legally on the hook to pay under Social Security, Medicare and other obligations, but does not have money set aside to pay for — have been estimated at a mind-boggling $84 trillion. Indeed, some respected economists have estimated that our unfunded liabilities actually exceed $200 trillion. Whichever estimate is correct, one thing is certain: Our children will face the almost impossible task of paying the gargantuan bills that we’re running up so that we can spend on ourselves. That is beyond immoral.

If you want to see where we’re headed, look at the disaster unfolding in Greece. For years, Greece kept borrowing so the government could indulge its people with all sorts of extravagant benefits. Greece kept living beyond its means without thinking about the future. The future has now arrived, and it isn’t pretty. The Greeks have so messed up their finances that other countries are no longer willing to lend them money. They now have to dismantle their welfare state in a desperate attempt to stay afloat. And rather than accept the consequences of their irresponsible behavior like adults, Greeks are rioting in the streets in a hopeless effort to preserve their welfare state. The once-proud people of Greece have had their spirit, strength and dignity sapped by their dependence on that welfare state. And the government, which had tried to be all things to all people, can no longer afford even to protect the most vulnerable in that society.

Here in America, we’re dangerously close to an important tipping point: almost half of Americans pay no income taxes. That is not to in any way demean those people — many have earned that right with their service to our country, their payments into the system or for other reasons. But value judgments aside, what will be the practical effect of having the people who don’t pay income tax being able to outvote the people who do? Will the voting majority not be tempted to vote themselves more and more benefits at the expense of others who are paying the bill?

That could prove to be a fatal tipping point. How long will it take us to slide from tipping point to breaking point, where we experience a Greece-like collapse? No one can say, but one thing is for sure: It will not be within our control. The international community will decide how long they are willing to continue to lend us money at relatively affordable rates. We will lose that essential part of the American spirit: the belief that we can control our own destiny. And our spirit, like the Greek spirit, will be further eroded by our dependence on a government we can’t afford. We will forever lose what is special about the American character, with its confidence and can-do optimism. And when the crash inevitably comes, as in Greece, it will be the most vulnerable in society who suffer the most.

We already had a debt problem when President Obama took office. He transformed it into a crisis. Trillion-dollar deficits were unheard of before he took office; they are now the new normal. He added more to the debt in just over three years than his predecessor, George W. Bush, added in eight. He has offered no serious plan to address the debt crisis that threatens to destroy our future. Indeed, in his stump speech, the president invariably rattles off a long list of things that we need to “invest” in. Translated: He wants to keep spending money we don’t have.

But of all the things that President Obama has done to jeopardize our future, none poses a greater threat than Obamacare — and we have barely begun to experience the destructive impacts of that atrociously designed law. At a time when President Obama’s own debt commission was warning that we can’t afford the entitlements we already have, the president pushed through a brand new entitlement that may prove to be the costliest one of all. The cost estimates for Obamacare have already almost tripled from what Obama promised, and the law hasn’t even fully gone into effect. Entitlement programs almost always end up costing many, many times more than what we’re promised when they’re proposed. Obamacare is already proving that it will not be an exception. If President Obama is re-elected, all hope of replacing Obamacare with a more cost-effective alternative will be lost. The entrenchment of Obamacare, more than anything else, will speed us toward a shared destiny with Greece.

The debt crisis has fundamentally changed the choice we face as an electorate. In normal times, there can be a healthy debate between those who advocate for more government spending and those who advocate for less. And in normal times, Americans can choose one approach or the other without causing long-term damage. But with our debt crisis, liberals and conservatives can no longer compete on an equal footing. This election is indeed a choice between two different visions for our future — but we can only afford one of those visions. Obama’s vision, with its endless costly “investments,” may have been a viable option in normal times. In these times, it is not. This election is no longer about the future we would prefer, but rather about the future we can afford. And there is only one legitimate choice if we’re serious about our survival.

There are many other reasons to vote for Mitt Romney. The president has a long and troubling history of saying things he doesn’t mean. Most recently, the president’s handling of the Benghazi tragedy suggests that he purposely misled us, for political purposes, about the murder of four brave Americans. And after lecturing us on civility, the president has demeaned his office with a shamefully dishonest name-calling campaign to convince us that Mitt Romney — a person of great compassion, decency and accomplishment — is some kind of monster.

I haven’t even mentioned the issue that is foremost on most of our minds: President Obama’s incompetent stewardship of the economy. His policies, including but not limited to Obamacare, have scared businesses away from creating the jobs we need to climb out of this mess. The president’s first term has been marred by anemic growth, persistent joblessness and soaring poverty; he has given us no reason to believe that he would do a better job in a second term. Under Obama’s misguided leadership, we are certainly experiencing a great deal of misery today. But if he is re-elected, that misery will pale in comparison to what awaits us tomorrow.

David B. Cohen served in the administration of President George W. Bush as U.S. Representative to the Pacific Community, as Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Interior, and as a member of the President’s Advisory Commission on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders. He is the author of Left-Hearted, Right-Minded: Why Conservative Policies Are The Best Way To Achieve Liberal Ideals.