Belief in ourselves must start at home

First, my community back home has one of the highest unemployment and foreclosure rates in the country. And while the country as a whole has an official unemployment rate of 9.4 percent, the underemployment rate — which reflects part-time workers who need full-time jobs and the folks who have given up — stands closer to 17 percent.

Our nation’s deficit, already exploding because of relentless and misguided spending increases, has been compounded by the economic downturn. These issues will only be fixed by a return to government discipline and sustained economic growth.

Public policy, like everything else, requires finding the right balance. Everyone knows we lost it somewhere along the way: in government spending, in taxation, in global trade, and in competitiveness. In each area of our economic lives, we need find a way to restore that balance.

So how do we make that happen? Some members believe that increasing spending and increasing taxes will restore that balance. Some members believe that we can restore our lead in global trade by regulating and taxing our export sector more heavily than our competitors do. And some members believe that we can afford mediocrity in getting our youngsters the education and opportunities they need.

I’m not any of those members. The first step, in my view, is realizing that government doesn’t have a magic wand. The second step is looking at the economic foundation that America has built over the last 200 years. What’s made it work? And what makes it better than any other country’s in the world today?

The answer is freedom and an opportunity to reap the rewards of hard work and good ideas. The answer is confidence — confidence in our rule of law, confidence in our system of taxation, and confidence in the future.

Make no mistake about it, I’m just a normal guy — a former sheriff from Hernando County. You won’t find any Ph.D.’s in economics hanging on my wall. But I do know America. I know my community. And I believe in its local leaders, small-business owners, and dedicated workforce. I believe in these folks because they have proven themselves throughout my lifetime and have been doing so for generations before me.

So when I hear it, I don’t buy into defeatist talk about America — that our best days are behind us. We can and we will face up to the challenges that lie ahead of us. It may not always be pretty, but I’m certain that we’ll always come out on top.

Where does that certainty come from? The 5th District is home to more seniors and veterans than just about any other congressional district in the country. These are the very people who made this country what it is today. They know how to build something together, they know how to keep fighting for something greater than themselves, and they know how to stick to it to keep America moving forward.

So when I go to Walter Reed now and meet young men and women like Justin Gaertner, a 21-year-old who lost two limbs in Afghanistan, I see the seniors and veterans in my district. I see young Americans who still don’t run away from a challenge, who still don’t hesitate to sacrifice for our country, and who still care more about the guys beside them than they do about themselves. I see America’s leaders, and when I talk with them, l know our country will find its footing, because America always has.

I accept that many of us disagree on policy choices, but we all share the same basic premise: America gets its strength from its people. And that is why, when I look up at Justin Gaertner tonight, sitting in the House gallery, listening to the President’s speech, I know that the state of our union is strong. I know it because Justin is strong, and so are 300 million of his fellow countrymen.

Rep. Nugent is the freshman representative for Florida’s 5th congressional district.