COLUMNIST Thomas Sowell has come closer than anyone else to defining what this election is about.
It's not just about the economy.
It's about liberty as well - "being free within society from oppressive restrictions imposed by authority on one's way of life," the dictionary says.
Americans sense the erosion of liberty - feel it in their bones. But they haven't figured out why it is happening.
Republicans should tell them.
Today's Democratic Party is coldly, calculatingly encouraging dependence upon itself so as to retain control, and it is succeeding. The result of this will inevitably be loss of liberty.
Vulnerable Americans are being reduced to serfs on a federal plantation.
They will report to the government, not it to them.
Don't buy health insurance? You will be reported to the IRS.
Drink too many sugary drinks? Governments will limit the size of the container.
Put Cheetos in a child's lunch? In some schools, monitors confiscated verboten things, returning them at the end of the day.
On the other hand, turn down a free public education? We'll give you free health care.
Lose your food stamp card - or sell it to get cash for what you really want - and the government will replace it instantly.
Heck, parents aren't even expected to feed their own children any more. Children can get free breakfasts, lunches and dinners at school.
And the federal government, to encourage dependence upon itself, now extends that benefit to all children in some schools. There's no need to qualify.
But encouraging dependence on government weakens the individual.
The result is a sea of personal tragedy. It's all around us.
The number of Americans who receive food stamps has increased by 50 percent.
Yet even free meals don't keep kids coming to school. Truancy has been called "an epidemic" in West Virginia. Dropout rates are a national scandal.
The incentives to dependence are now so strong - free food, subsidized housing, subsidized utilities, free cellphones, free health care - that people fall into the trap.