"America will soon make a decision about its
future. It will be a permanent decision. There will be no going
— Grover Norquist
"Some voters buy into disingenuous political speeches because
they are politically illiterate, a condition that is growing
— Robert E. Kelly
Do you ever, while watching the evening news,
observing political campaigns, or interacting with your government while
getting through your day, ask yourself: What the heck is going on here?
Do you wonder if somehow, somewhere, it all makes sense, only for some
reason you and your private-sector friends just can't figure it out?
Well, look at the bright side: As a newspaper reader you are less lost
in incomprehensibility than most people. You at least know WHAT is
happening. Your newspaper's editors will try to help you connect that
WHAT with some "who" and "why" as much as space permits. And based on
some letters to the editor, many readers pretty much "get it" already.
Some, however, are just getting started. Like me, you may long to really
understand the entire big picture, enough so as to be a player on your
own political scene, instead of just funding it. When I started I had to
find my way through the jungle, machete in hand, clearing the brush; I
had to wade through the swamp and excavate lost cities filled with
snakes and spiders. Oh, had I only known then what I know now!
I've read many books over those 30 years, about federal, state and local
government. I could give you a list and you could get started today.
Or, you can read just two books recently published and quickly know
everything you really need to know about what, who, and why — and what
to do about it.
Begin with a scholarly, yet fun, tome by familiar local columnist Robert
E. Kelly of Peabody. It's called "The
National Debt of the United States, 1941 to 2008."
We have always been told that those who do not understand history are
condemned to repeat it. Events today seem so strange that we might
wonder if there is any connection to history at all. Kelly will show you
that what you see today is the inevitable consequence of yesterday's
If, like me, you read the first edition of this book, you can quickly
scan George Washington through early Franklin D. Roosevelt to jog your
memory of how things were when the national debt, despite World War II,
was small. Then start reading carefully with the later Roosevelt years
until you get well into the present administration of George W. Bush.
Though readers of his column know that Kelly is a conservative, you will
find that he holds presidents of both parties accountable for what has
gone wrong, lists specifics, and makes connections between cause and
Kelly defines "national debt" as debt held by the public, which doesn't
include borrowing between government bodies, so the number will be
smaller than you may be accustomed to seeing. The increase from 1941 to
the present — $42.8 billion to $5345.4 billion — is no less alarming, at
least to those of us who feel responsibility for the generations that
will live with the consequences of our letting this happen.
As our editorial page editor, Nelson Benton, writes in his foreword:"
You'll come away from it enlightened, if also a little discouraged about
what faces the United States as we embark on a new century."
Enlightenment is good, but discouragement is not, so don't stop reading:
move on to "Leave
Us Alone — getting the government's hands off our money, our guns, our
lives" by Grover Norquist. He's president of Americans for Tax
Reform and has been a friend of mine since 1978 when he was an activist
with College Republicans.
Citizens for Limited Taxation is a proud member of Norquist's "Leave Us
Alone Coalition," which answers the question I am often asked about my
political activism: "How do you stand it? Why aren't you depressed?"
Norquist takes issues seriously, and makes politics fun. He fills in the
intelligence gap found in activists like me who focus on the issues and
the fun, but are not naturally inclined toward political demographics.
Norquist's world is divided into the Leave Us Alone Coalition
(taxpayers, small businessmen and women, Second Amendment voters,
homeschoolers, property rights activists, communities of faith and
parental rights, the growing investor class, the police and the
military) and the Takings Coalition (government workers, labor unions,
the nonprofit sector, universities, trial lawyers, and coercive
utopians). Yes, there is some overlap there; many readers may have to
find or define themselves.
Those of us who tend to feel that the present requires an inevitable
future need to learn how fluid the political paradigm is, how quickly
things change within it — and how important and powerful our own
involvement can be. I think that people who get depressed by it all are
either overwhelmed by all they don't know, or think there is nothing
they can do. Reading these two books will help them move on to political
literacy and the joy of "making a difference" when they vote and make
decisions about our country's future.
Barbara Anderson is executive director of Citizens
for Limited Taxation. Her column appears weekly in the Salem News and
Eagle Tribune, and often in the Newburyport Times, Gloucester Times, and
Lowell Sun; bi-weekly in the Tinytown Gazette; and occasionally in the
Providence (RI) Journal and other newspapers.