Lincoln * Institute

Colin A. Hanna

Colin A. Hanna

Let Freedom Ring, USA


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Let Freedom Ring

From Kool Aid to TEA

by Colin Hanna

We're just hours away from what many pundits have said will be an historic election. Is that valid — is this a year that somehow eclipses other mid-term elections, or is just the hackneyed refrain that this election, regardless of what "this" election may be, is the most important election of our lifetimes?

I will argue that this time, the rhetoric is rational — because this election is about our national direction. One of the most revealing polling questions of all is a simple one: are we as a nation on the right track, or on the wrong track?

Two years ago, the "wrong track" numbers were in the majority — and the wrong track meant that people were turning against the Iraq war in particular and the Bush administration in general. The Obama campaign themes of Hope and Change captured the national sentiment perfectly, and it resulted in a solid victory, not only for Obama but more widely for most Democrats. One of the national news magazines suggested that Republicans might be an endangered species, heading for extinction. Another news magazine cover trumpeted "We're all Socialists now."

Less than two years later, after having embraced "change," the American people are saying — ooops! Maybe we ought to change it back! That by itself would be quite a remarkable swing in just twenty four months. But what fascinates me this year is that we are not simply saying that the Obama agenda is in the wrong direction — we are actually reexamining our national values and our founding documents to rediscover what being an American is supposed to mean, and from that, whether the Founders of our country got something monumentally right that we are now changing radically and that the radical change is wrong. We are going back to our nation's founding principles in a back-to-basics way that I've never seen in my lifetime.

There are two books that I want to recommend for your reading today that, taken together, provide both a philosophical and a statistically validated analysis of this remarkable national reassessment of American values.

The first is a book called The Battle: How the Fight Between Free Enterprise and Big Government Will Shape America's Future, by Arthur Brooks, the President of the American Enterprise Institute. Newt Gingrich calls it "the best succinct analysis of the values of the American people I have ever read." The Wall Street Journal says, "The Battle is an argument for free-enterprise, with Mr. Brooks explaining how markets deliver not just higher growth but greater happiness." And, it is the pursuit of happiness that is in real danger according to Brooks, who understands that unearned money and the redistribution of wealth do not bring happiness. He proposes the concept of earned success, rather than entitlement, as the animating force that produces happiness.

Brooks contends that "Money corresponds to happiness only through earned success." In other words, the money earner is far happier than, say, the welfare recipient, the lottery winner, or the trust fund heir. Income that is not earned transports with it no personal sense of gain and no sense of satisfaction.

Brooks posits that America is in the midst of a serious battle between two competing visions for its future. This first is one in which America continues as a nation ordered around the principles of free enterprise and market forces with a limited government at its core. The second is a more alarming one, in which America turns down the path of European-style statism. Its centerpiece is the redistribution of wealth, which completely discards an individual's right to the pursuit of happiness. Brooks warns that the current administration prefers the latter path, with our own President telling Arizona State graduates last spring that, as Brooks terms it, "it is beneath you to try to go out and get rich and famous." To really understand what's at stake for America for the next two years in this precarious battle between these two opposing visions, Brooks' book is one of the most important books of our time.

A second book essential to understanding America in 2010 is Scott Rasmussen and Doug Schoen's Mad As Hell: How the Tea Party Movement is Fundamentally Remaking Our Two Party System. Steven Schier of The Atlantic says Mad As Hell "clarifies much about our contemporary politics and identifies important causes of our current political malaise. It is the best available guide to the politics of 2010." Chris Ruddy, CEO of NewsMax exclaims that "Mad As Hell tells the truth about the Tea Party movement. Throw out everything you've heard from the big media and get this book to find out how the Tea Party is reshaping America."

Indeed, the Tea Party movement is reshaping America and it won't be going away anytime soon. As co-author Doug Schoen asserted recently in Washington's Daily Caller, "I do not think the Tea Party movement would go away [even] if the economy improved. There is too much dysfunctionality in Washington, too much desire for change in the electorate." Certainly the unrest among the electorate is the driving force behind the Tea Party, and as Mad As Hell demonstrates, this is no ordinary populist movement.

The numbers in Mad As Hell quantify a populace fed up with a government that is drifting toward the European-style socialism that Arthur Brooks disparages in The Battle. Pervasive objection to big government is the impetus behind the protests of the Tea Party.

More government is not the answer to America's economic crisis. These two books chronicle a national reassessment that may have its fullest expression to date in the November election. Two years into the Obama administration, it seems clear that Americans are switching from Kool-Aid to tea.

(Colin Hanna is President of Let Freedom Ring, USA.)