- The Washington Times - Friday, August 12, 2011

Perhaps the most telling moment during the whole of the debt-ceiling negotiations came from White House consultant David Axelrod. Appearing on CBS’ “Face the Nation,” Mr. Axelrod echoed a growing chant from the left wing: The Standard & Poor’s downgrade of America’s credit rating was “essentially the Tea Party downgrade,” he charged, adding that the “Tea Party brought us to the brink of default.”

What a shameful abdication of responsibility from an office that once was, as an earlier occupant said, where the buck stopped. Apparently not anymore. Barack Obama, you’re no Harry Truman. This administration’s passing of the buck is even more brazen given that the White House offered no debt-ceiling plan of its own.

Who did? For starters, the Tea Party members in Congress passed the Cut, Cap and Balance Act well before the debt-ceiling deadline. Even Senate Democrats, led by Majority Leader Harry Reid, put forth a plan. Because the Supreme Court isn’t a legislative body, that leaves the Obama administration as the only branch of government that failed to lead.

Still, if you listen to no one but the media, you’d think the Tea Party had done something malicious by forcing Congress and the White House to agree to serious spending cuts - exactly what S&P demanded. The talking heads on the left - and even some Democrats in Congress - unleashed a flurry of criticism, calling the Tea Party “terrorists” and “hostage-takers” and saying they had acted akin to someone “holding a gun to the head” of the American people.

Most Americans see what the Tea Party did as something else: taking responsibility - someone has to.

That brings us back to President Obama’s disclaimer - via Mr. Axelrod - of responsibility. While in no way is this the “Tea Party downgrade,” those aroused millions of working Americans known as Tea Party members have shown themselves more than ready to assume the responsibility that no one in Washington appears brave enough to shoulder. On our mountain trails here in the Rockies, they’ll tell you to lead, follow or get out of the way. It’s time to get out of the way, Mr. President.

That sentiment was strong when we convened 1,000 delegates from 25 states at the Western Conservative Summit 2011 in Denver last month. It was not a partisan gathering, but there were many activists from the Tea Party, 9.12 Project chapters and taxpayer groups. They expressed disgust with the administration’s fiscal indiscipline and economic ineptitude, mixed with impatience for constitutional restraints on taxes and spending at the federal level, similar to those that have served Colorado so well.

As a force for renewal of our nation’s founding principles, the Tea Party is the most potent reassertion of individual citizen responsibility since the grass-roots conservative movement of the 1970s propelled Ronald Reagan to victory over Jimmy Carter. The parallels between the two eras are clear: Then as now, the Washington ruling class was flummoxed on the economy. Some even explained America’s seemingly insurmountable problems as the natural result of a nation in decline. Criticism of the president and his advisers was dismissed as a juvenile reaction to the only “adults in the room.”

Because Congress members attentive to the Tea Party make up only one element of one house of one branch of government, today’s heirs to the Reagan legacy can only do so much. But look at what they’ve done already. This year began with the president sending a bloated budget to Congress that would have added to the nation’s deficit. The presence of the Tea Party ensured that the irresponsible Obama budget was dead on arrival. After the debt-ceiling debate, the Tea Party has shifted the dialogue in Washington away from job-killing tax increases to serious, long-term budget cuts that would reduce the nation’s $14 trillion debt. In a city that considers budget-cut efforts akin to Armageddon and higher taxes as the holy grail, the Tea Party’s success is no small feat.

The fiscal deficit is a grave concern. But the worst pathology threatening the United States with terminal decline is the responsibility deficit - a “not me” syndrome that infects too much of American society right now. Nowhere is this deficit more on display than in the current White House occupant. We can only hope that 2012 will bring us a candidate who, like Reagan, wants to lead with more than just words. Until then, the bottom-up responsibility movement called - famously or infamously - the Tea Party is America’s best hope.

John Andrews is a former president of the Colorado Senate, chairman of the Western Conservative Summit and author of “Responsibility Reborn: A Citizen’s Guide to the Next American Century” (Denali Press, 2011).

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