Lincoln * Institute

Colin A. Hanna

Colin A. Hanna

Let Freedom Ring, USA


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Let Freedom Ring

The Real Lesson from Massachusetts: Voters Reject Arrogance

by Colin Hanna

Is there a single proposition that explains Scott Brown's stunning win in the Senate race in Massachusetts?

The concept of a single proposition is that it both simply and fully describes what causes something.

Did Brown win because he ran a better campaign than Martha Coakley? Yes, but does that explain it all? Of course not.

Did Brown win because he ran against the Obama-Pelosi-Reid version of health care reform? Yes, but that's not the whole story.

Did Brown win because people were angry, and he somehow managed to channel that anger into opposition to Coakley? Probably, but that's only one of several dynamics at work.

Did Brown win because America has suddenly turned more conservative, and he was seen as more in tune with this new ideological shift while Coakley was out of tune with it? There's almost certainly some truth in that.

Did he win because opposition to Obama, Pelosi and Reid has become so intense that any Republican can win against any Democrat in 2010, even in Massachusetts? That's doubtful.

So … is there a single explanation, a single proposition, which lies beneath each of these attempts to understand Scott Brown's victory. I submit that there is. Scott Brown won because American citizens everywhere, even in the bluest of blue states, are fed up with what they see as arrogance in public life.

It's arrogant for Obama, Pelosi, Reid and Coakley to say that they know what's best for America better than the average citizen does. It's arrogant for Coakley to take her election for granted simply because she represents the state's majority party.

The reaction against arrogance isn't limited to this race — it's been the pervasive political story of the last year. It's arrogant for legislators to say that they don't need to read the bills that they pass. It's arrogant for them to meet with lobbyists and big donors but to dismiss ordinary citizens who take part in Tea Party demonstrations. It's arrogant for legislators to assume that they can run banks, car and insurance companies better than anyone else.

It's arrogant for a candidate for President to campaign on not raising taxes for those earning less than $250,000 a year and then, once in office, to do exactly that he said he wouldn't. It's arrogant to think that the people won't notice when you take what's supposed to be an economic stimulus bill and instead turn it onto a squalid set of earmarks and payoffs to special interests. It's arrogant to promise openness and transparency when campaigning for the people's support, and then to shut them out when meeting behind closed doors to grease palms and hammer out sleazy deals.

The reaction against all of these forms of arrogance is what came together and created an enormous force to carry Scott Brown to victory. That's the single proposition that encompasses all of the other reasons that the pundits are citing in countless analyses of this historic race. The reason that it's important to understand this deeper force is that a misunderstanding of what drove the voters in Massachusetts will lead future campaigns to miscalculate.

What America is calling for, even crying for, is the rarest of commodities in politics: humility. Humility embraces transparency. Transparency promotes integrity and accountability. A big part of Senator Obama's appeal as a Presidential candidate was that he was seen as humble and hopeful, while George Bush, Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld were seen as swaggering and arrogant. But even though Obama was successful, he didn't really understand this underlying force, and within days of taking office, he began to display arrogance. If conservatives are to truly learn from Scott Brown's success, the lesson that they must learn is that in the politics of 2010, arrogance is a terminal condition. Scott Brown got it right: the seat he was running for is the peoples' seat. Public service is actually about … serving the public.

Colin A. Hanna is President of Let Freedom Ring (