Political parties throw a lot of glitz at us with their made-for-TV spectaculars, which we call conventions. But the choice facing Americans this year is stark and clear, and these conventions provide no new insights or information.

If you think we're struggling because we don't have enough government, then the Democrats are the party for you. If you think the point of government is to protect individual freedom, and the problem is that it has gone way beyond that, then Republicans are the party for you.

No visual dominates the landscape of our nation's capital like the Washington Monument. Today, however, other than memorializing our first president, it also provides a message about the role and efficacy of government.

Last month, August, marked one year since a 5.8-magnitude earthquake shook D.C. The quake caused cracks in the Washington Monument, which stands at a height of almost two football fields, causing the National Park Service to close it.

A year later, the monument remains in disrepair, shut to the 600,000 annual visitors it usually receives.

The Washington Post reported last January that the monument would be closed until sometime in 2013. According to that report, the contract to do the repairs would "probably not be awarded until late summer, with work starting sometime after that." But now the Post indicates repair of the monument may not be complete until sometime in 2014.

In January 1994, Los Angeles was hit with a massive 6.7-magnitude earthquake knocking down two sections of the Santa Monica Freeway.

Initial estimate from the California Department of Transportation was that it would take 12 to 18 months to do the repairs.

Considering the massive potential costs to the local economy of shutdown of sections of the busiest freeway in the world, Caltrans decided to turn loose the time-tested formula for American success: market incentives and individual ingenuity. The agency opened bidding to contractors who would accelerate the repair process, offering incentive bonuses for early completion.

The result: The repairs were completed in less than three months, with the contractors collecting a $14.5 million bonus for finishing 74 days ahead of schedule.

An enduring society must be a free society. Only when free can individuals deal with life's endless surprises in creative and resilient ways. Bureaucracy and government control are guarantees for failure.

Now, sadly, we watch those on Louisiana's Gulf Coast bear the brunt again of a brutal hurricane. Think of the despair that followed Hurricane Katrina. There was no shortage of opinions that New Orleans was done forever -- that it would never recover.

But human resilience, creativity, will and freedom have revived that city.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the unemployment rate in the New Orleans region is now below the national average.

The Wall Street Journal recently reported on the surge of entrepreneurial activity that has occurred there. Tax incentives have given birth to a growing, nationally competitive film industry, with music and software design following suit. A failed public schools system has been revitalized, with 80 percent of the schools now charter schools.

Shouldn't it tell us something that Apple, the icon of innovation, once on the brink of failure, is now the most valuable company in history? And that all the major areas where we are having problems are areas controlled or dominated by government?

Americans don't need to watch fancy, carefully produced political conventions to know that one question faces us this year: whether or not we want to be free.

Star Parker is an author and president of CURE, the Center for Urban Renewal and Education. She can be reached at urbancure.org.