MY JAW dropped at what I heard coming from the TV screen. Did he really just say that on national TV? I was watching a panel discussion on the health-care bill. The General Motors fiasco was cited as evidence of what happens when the government dabbles in the private sector. A gentleman defending the Obama bill countered by saying the problem with GM was that the government owned only 80 percent of GM - rather than all of it. I sat there stunned for a second, amazed by what he'd just admitted on national TV.

Good, I thought, the socialist agenda is coming out of the closet.

At first, the statement seemed to be a good sign, an intellectually honest remark that finally spotlighted the real debate. Is exchanging our free economy for a socialist economy the only way to cure our nation's woes?

Should America become a socialist country? The Obama administration seems to think so.

Otherwise, why would they keep pushing policies that only serve to cement our dependency on the federal government? Then it really hit me. It is NOT a good thing when influential political figures can tout Marxist policies without even hesitating.

What does this say about our society? Or the success of their social engineering? No one would be singing the praises of government control so frequently and so relentlessly - including people in the White House and in Congress - if they didn't believe there was an audience hungry to hear it.

Ouch. We've got some work do to. Not so long ago, socialism was a dirty word. It was recognized as a step on the path to communism - and most of us knew what that would eventually mean.

Most of us (especially conservatives but many old-fashioned liberals, too) cheered President Ronald Reagan as he unwaveringly supported the victims of communism. We applauded as he rebuked the tyrants of Eastern Europe and condemned their freedom-crushing policies. We sat glued to the TV watching as the Berlin Wall went down. We felt the hope. Rejoiced for those who would taste the freedom we enjoyed in America. Took pride in knowing that our country played a part in their liberation. And now, here we are about to exchange America's model of freedom for the very same model of government-control that we fought overseas. Even some of those who applauded Reagan's courage are now cheering Obama's push for more government.

Do they simply applaud whatever they (mistakenly) believe is popular? Or are they fooled by a sort of socialism in drag, tricked by a pernicious policy in the guise of a pretty dress - or a president still coasting on his charm?

I'd like to think it's the latter, that the seduction of socialism's false promises of a cure for every alleged ill, has caused some people to temporarily abandon common sense.

Eventually, as Margaret Thatcher once said of the socialist principle, you run out of other people's money. And when that happens, socialism reduces the value of a human being to that which is cost-effective. Some will be denied medical treatment simply because it is not deemed cost-effective. This is not to say that our current health-care system can't be tweaked. But beware of taking something not perfect and replacing it with something worse.

Under socialism, the individual is a cog in the wheel whose existence serves to empower the government. It should be the other way around. The government should exist to serve and empower the individual.

America's founders understood that. They understood that only in a society of limited government can true freedom and liberty thrive. With this in mind, they sacrificed their lives, fortunes and even families to fight for independence so that their grandchildren's grandchildren could prosper.

Today, we've strayed far from that original vision. The answer isn't to abandon the idea of freedom and become a nation dependent on government. The answer is to defend our freedom in the same self-sacrificing spirit in which our great nation was founded. Only then will the American experiment continue to succeed.

Christine O'Donnell was the Republican nominee in the 2008 U.S. Senate race against Joe Biden. She is a candidate in the 2010 special election for that same seat. Her e-mail is chris19805@gmail.com