America still stands for achievement.
Republican Scott Brown has been elected to fill the U.S. Senate seat for Massachusetts that arch-Liberal Ted Kennedy had filled. Startlingly, Brown ran on a fairly free-market platform, advocating tax cuts and opposing the Federal takeover of health care. He contrasted with his opponent, Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley, not only on the economic issues, but also in advocating the ardent prosecution of the war on terror. The only policy they shared was a pro-abortion rights stance. But the election was “pro-life” in a deeper moral sense.
Massachusetts hadn’t sent a Republican to the Senate in over 30 years. The election is a stark sign to Democrats, since President Obama had personally campaigned for Coakley and pleaded with voters to support her for the sake of his own programs. Many voters signaled that that was exactly what they did not want to do. Instead, they handed the Republicans a 41st vote in the Senate, enough to block most legislation there.
Does this mean that a majority in America is ready to support a strongly pro-liberty political program? Probably not. The news coverage indicates that swing voters were disgruntled over a bad economy more than anything else. In the state whose 2006 health care mandate was the model for the proposed ObamaCare legislation, voters may have felt that the national squabble over health care made no difference to them, whereas the bad economy and eroding national credit did matter.
Brown ran as a man of principle, emphasizing a few ideas : the need for fiscal rectitude in government; the probability that the Democrats’ health care plan would not benefit Massachusetts; and the importance of fighting back against terrorists. But, in truth, Brown was probably not elected for strongly ideological reasons.
Most basically, Brown came across as an honest, regular guy, while Coakley came across as a snooty, out-of-touch elitist. Brown’s few, anodyne principles and his steady demeanor added to his aura of decency and normalcy. Still, it’s hard for an Objectivist to cheer when a politician crashes and burns for not knowing who Curt Schilling is. I admire Schilling, but we shouldn’t elect politicians based on how handsome they are, or whether they drive a pick-up truck, or what they know about baseball.
Elitists do well when they shine as competent leaders. In this respect Coakley was unfortunate, because many Massachusetts voters were turned off by the arrogant, secrecy-shrouded dealing that Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi were using to push the health care bill through. When Coakley wedded herself to that bill, she made herself a target for the voter discomfort with the whole process. And voters were right to be uncomfortable.
Finally, Brown had the good fortune of opposing the party in power when employment had reached a nadir and the Government’s economic stimulus measures had been tried and failed. Many voters had heard the President’s message, but they didn’t respond the way the White House had hoped . Instead, many voted for Brown in order to tell Obama that they don’t like unemployment, they don’t like low growth, and they don’t like the prospect of endless deficits so huge as to really imperil the nation’s finances in just a few more years.
It’s no news that most Americans are not philosophical. It’s no news that most are pragmatists who don’t understand free-market economics or the principle of individual rights . But we can raise a renewed cheer for the American spirit. As long as no politician can sell American voters abnegation and suffering, the American dream will be defended in Washington. Policies that work to enable economic growth and increased productivity will have to be part of any successful long-term political movement.
There are core elements of the Left and Right in American politics that care for something higher than economic growth. But on January 19, 2010, the people of the bluest of blue states declared, once again, that America should be the home of opportunity, growth, and wealth—of life, in other words. Let’s hope everyone in Washington heard that loud and clear.
William R Thomas writes about and teaches Objectivist ideas. He is the editor of The Literary Art of Ayn Rand and of Ethics at Work, both published by The Atlas Society. He is also an economist, teaching occasionally at a variety of universities.