Laura Seitz, Deseret News
The American flag is flown over the capitol during the Bureau of Emergency Medical Service and Preparedness EMS Awards Ceremony on Wednesday, May 30, 2012.

Over the past two weeks, as the Republican and Democratic conventions have played out on the national stage, we have watched the two parties engage in political combat. Many have sought to belittle their fellow Americans. Some of the rhetoric was so far over-the-top that it left us with the sad conclusion that Washington is a dishonest and dysfunctional place.

For those of us who are worried about our future, it is disappointing to see politics become more powerful than the principles that have made this nation great.

I believe in the idea of American exceptionalism. I believe this nation has played an enormously positive role for mankind. We helped to save the world from tyranny in WWII and the Cold War. We created a middle class that has lifted millions of families out of poverty. We opened the door of freedom to hundreds of millions of people around the world. All of these events were only possible because we were economically, morally, and militarily strong enough to stand as "the shining city upon the hill."

But all of that is in danger now.

It is popular to say that this is the most important election in a generation. But that is literally true. We are standing at the crossroads of our history. And though a wide range of problems stand before us, the heart of this crisis lies in the fact that our out-of-control spending will lead to financial ruin. For the first time in our history, our national debt exceeds our entire GDP. We are $16 trillion in debt and counting. More than 40 percent of every dollar the federal government spends is borrowed.

To put that in perspective, that is like a man who makes $11/hour having more than $160,000 in credit card debt.

No wonder that we have seen significant decreases in personal worth, average incomes and a dispiriting lack of jobs.

As a small business leader, I understand the laws of economics. They are like the laws of gravity. Neither can be ignored. We have to control our spending to save our nation from an economic catastrophe. We have to cut our debt before the private sector can create enough jobs to save the American dream. We have to cut intrusive government regulation and reform our tax code to foster economic growth. These are things that people care about today.

My 14 years as an Air Force pilot helped me to understand that a nation that is bankrupt cannot secure the freedoms of its people. My experience with my own parents helped me understand that a nation that is bankrupt cannot care for its elderly or the poor. A nation that is bankrupt cannot create enough economic growth to give hope to our children.

It's time we demand that our leaders turn back to the fiscal and moral responsibility that enabled the American dream. And that isn't a Republican or Democratic ideal. That is an American ideal. That is who we really are.

But it is not too late. If we have the courage to make the right decisions, our best days are still before us. We, the people, have the ability to set our nation back on the path of prosperity and confidence.

Chris Stewart, a former Air Force pilot, small business owner and New York Times bestselling author, is the Republican candidate in Utah's 2nd Congressional District.