Katherine Kersten: The costs of giving in to government

As our troops defend freedom abroad, we also have a responsibility at home.

On Memorial Day, we honor our nation's warriors and their courageous defense of freedom. Their sacrifice is the highest and best, but it comes with an important caveat.

Our soldiers defend freedom outside our borders, but it is the rest of us who must constantly strive to build and maintain it within. While America's troops patrol the mountains of Afghanistan, we must guard against encroachments on freedom here at home. It is up to us to ensure that our way of life is worthy of protection by our men and women in uniform.

Our mission may not seem dramatic -- we're not called to assault a Taliban encampment or devise a strategy to foil Iran's nuclear ambitions. Instead, we make a thousand and one small decisions each year that enhance or diminish freedom's vitality within our borders.

America's military continues to be the world's best, yet today we're losing the struggle for freedom on the home front. We're giving ground in the battle against that voracious devourer of freedom -- massive, intrusive central government.

Big government is not making these inroads by threatening or intimidating us. On the contrary, it declares its good intentions in warm, reassuring tones -- promising to assume our burdens, protect us from risk and enhance our well-being.

The campaign to expand government's scope and influence is led by a president who is a master at manipulating this seductive message. Barack Obama declared his intention on Inauguration Day, when he vowed to "remake America." A skilled rhetorician, the president has couched his ambitions in words that resonate to American ears -- equality, empathy, compassion and social justice.

The consequences of central government's assault are just beginning to become apparent. Its first victims have been "greedy" bankers, financiers, and auto and insurance executives -- those classic Hollywood bad guys we love to hate. They fell for the siren song of massive government bailouts. Now, not surprisingly, they find themselves beholden to that same government.

Today, an increasing proportion of corporate America is run by neutered chief executives who feel compelled to bow and scrape before political power, while rattling tin cups for their share of government largesse. And what do they get for it? Hot on the heels of its Chrysler takeover, government is mounting an assault on General Motors -- threatening to deliver the company's assets to Obama's political allies at the United Auto Workers.

As big government reshapes America's free-enterprise system, it is also expanding its control over our lifestyle choices. The Obama administration's stringent new mileage and emission standards are a case in point. Your next vehicle will likely be a government-mandated, 40-mile-per-gallon Obama microcar. It may be a good bit smaller than the mid-sized car you drive today, but -- you guessed it -- will cost a whole lot more.

In coming months, federal policymakers aim to impose more such diktats. Increasingly, they will control and finance education -- from day care to college -- and regulate what we buy, and where and how we work.

As government expands, it will often favor those who don't act responsibly over those who do. Did you make sure to take on a mortgage you could afford? If so, you may be bailing out the guy down the street who mortgaged his house to the hilt. In the same way, newly enacted federal regulations appear to ensure that folks who pay off their credit card bills every month will subsidize those who don't.

The grand prize in government's assault on our personal freedom will be control over health care -- now 17 percent of our economy. The multistep takeover will begin with hyper-regulation, faux cost-cutting and a shiny new government-subsidized "alternative" plan. It will likely culminate in the absorption of the health care industry as a government appendage.

What do we lose by ceding to government the right to make decisions about our daily lives, in exchange for promises of comfort and security?

Freedom's champions are self-reliant, enterprising citizens, capable of handling their own affairs and unafraid to do so. They know that liberty brings both rewards and risks, and that the two are inseparable. If we take big government's bargain -- and trade our freedoms for the guarantee of a pleasant, risk-free life -- we will soon discover how high a price we must pay.

Katherine Kersten is a Twin Cities writer and speaker. Reach her at kakersten@gmail.com -- or join the conversation at her blog, www.startribune.com/thinkagain.

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