Olympics highlight Russian problems, new poll shows unease in Colorado

Dateline Sochi: There’s nothing like the Olympics to summon the inner-nationalist in us all. When peculiar athletic institutions like ice skating and slopestyle skiing invoke primetime chants of U-S-A in a living room near you, it can only mean one thing: It’s Olympic season, and it’s time for ‘Mericans to rally around the Stars and Stripes.

The Sochi Games have had more than the usual share of political and cultural subtext to go along with them. The bulk of that scuttlebutt has centered on what a disastrous host the Russians have been, and what, in turn, that says about Vladimir Putin’s Russia.

Coverage of the games has been peppered with stories about wild dogs in the street, water systems that would make an EPA Superfund Manager nauseated and construction failures stacked on top of cost overruns. The Sochi Olympics, even with its $50 billion price tag, will doubtlessly go down as one of the worst-run in history.

As a child of the Cold War, I admit, I can’t help but relish the Russians’ failures.

Those failures, unfortunately, are emblematic of a wider economic vulnerability that grips the former communist state.

When you see the struggling state of affairs that the Olympics have helped bring into focus — a suffering Russian middle class, little opportunity for economic mobility and massive disparity between the rich and the poor — you come to appreciate how decisive the economic victory was for the United States in the Cold War.

More, you realize once more why a system of free markets, free people and the rule of law, while far from perfect, is vastly superior to a system of economic command and control.

Yes, the Russians may have superior ice skaters, but if the Sochi games have reminded the world of anything, it is that Americans are vastly better at building economic systems that perpetuate prosperity and progress for the masses than their former Cold War nemesis.

Dateline Washington, D.C.:  This week, President Barack Obama and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid won a huge political victory. The two staked all of their considerable political muscle on passing another debt-ceiling increase. The big win for Obama and Reid? They got their increase in the nation’s debt load, now more than $17 trillion, without any accompanying reductions in spending or reform for the fiscal forces that, in time, will bankrupt the country.

In sum, Obama and Reid perpetuated the fiscal status quo. Hopefully, they will understand if the rest of us aren’t celebrating with them.

Dateline Denver: A Quinnipiac survey of Colorado voters last week was full of ominous news for Democrats.

Colorado Democrats aren’t, to paraphrase Toby Keith, as good as they once were.

Gov. John Hickenlooper fails to break 50 percent of the vote against any of the field of largely unknown Republican challengers. Even when pitted against better-known but hugely controversial Tom Tancredo, Hick can only muster 48 percent.

The news is worse for Sen. Mark Udall. He leads Weld County District Attorney Ken Buck by only 3 points, Colorado Springs state Rep. Amy Stephens by 1 point and Western Slope state Rep. Randy Baumgartner by 2.

Why is the Democrat brand in decline? For starters, Colorado voters don’t care much for their policies.

By 9 points, Colorado voters oppose the package of new gun laws passed by the Legislature last year. Sixty percent of Coloradans, meanwhile, oppose Obamacare.

Beyond discontent with policies, Colorado voters are also weary of the president — 59 percent don’t approve of Obama’s job performance.

After the State of the Union address, a CNN reporter pressed Udall on whether Obama would be invited to campaign alongside him in Colorado. Udall refused to answer the question three times. These numbers show why.

And get this, the Democratic brand in Colorado is so tarnished that even the Clinton Machine isn’t unscathed. In a hypothetical matchup with libertarian firebrand Rand Paul, Hillary Clinton actually trails among Colorado voters by a margin of 47-43.

The Quinnipiac poll is the latest to show that Coloradans aren’t as thrilled with one-party governance as the current governing party might hope. That’s good news for those yearning for some checks and balances in our politics.

Josh Penry is a former minority leader of the Colorado Senate. He is a graduate of Grand Junction High School and Mesa State College.


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