This election will tell us what kind of America we believe in. Is it the one of limited government that our Founders bequeathed to their posterity, or is it the one remade in the image of liberal paternalistic government?
The choice, as President Obama has said, could not be clearer. Is our country a giant ATM, dispensing money and benefits to increasing numbers of people while requiring little, if anything, of the recipients? Or, is America a land of opportunity where people can rise as far as their skills and desire to work will take them, with a safety net for those who need it?
We have become a debtor nation with too many of our fellow citizens believing the productive owe them just for being alive. Debt shackles individuals and nations. Benjamin Franklin said: "Think what you do when you run in debt; you give to another power over your liberty."
Government under President Obama has reduced our liberty by expanding its power over us (think Obamacare) and deepening our debt. There is no indication things will get better if he wins a second term; quite the opposite.
In its endorsement of Mitt Romney, the influential Des Moines Register got to the heart of the matter. It noted, "the single most important challenge" for the next president will be "pulling the economy out of the doldrums, getting more Americans back in the workforce in meaningful jobs with promising futures, and getting the federal government on a track to balance the budget in a bipartisan manner that the country demands."
Good luck on the bipartisan part -- unless voters give Romney a Republican Senate. But even then, the archaic Senate rules require a supermajority -- 60 votes -- to pass anything of significance. There won't be 60 Republican senators.
Any leader must inspire, but no leader can base that inspiration on personality alone, as President Obama has done. This is why the air has gone out of his balloon.
A nation's citizens must believe their leader's policies will work, benefitting them and the nation. That was the point of the Register endorsement. The newspaper noted Romney's experience and his faith in the private sector, which it believes will spur an economic recovery.
There is nothing in President Obama's record, or in his "plan" for the next four years (which is merely a rehash of the past four) that gives confidence the economy will improve. His Middle East policy will continue to project weakness, encouraging terrorists.
Ultimately, any revival, be it spiritual or economic, must begin with individuals. No government can create virtue and produce character in its citizens. Individuals, not government, drive the economy and empower the nation. Too much centralized government stifles both.
The Register, which endorsed Obama four years ago, no longer has faith in him. In this, they appear to reflect an awakening among many 2008 Obama voters who now see him as unworthy of the hope they foolishly placed in him.
If America is to recover -- not just economically, but also as the leader of a freer world -- it must have a president who applauds success and encourages more people to be successful; not one who constantly attacks "millionaires and billionaires" as if their success is keeping others from joining them. And he must be a president who says "no" to spending.
There are two major candidates on the ballot. One has a track record of failing to live up to his gargantuan promises. The other is experienced in making things work in business and in government.
Mitt Romney offers more than a fresh face. He offers a fresh start. As the Des Moines Register endorsement said, "A renewed sense of confidence will spark renewed investment by American companies. Industry will return to full production and hiring will begin again. That should come with Mitt Romney in the White House."
Examiner Columnist Cal Thomas is nationally syndicated by Tribune Media.