Saturday, April 17, 2010

Lessons from Scott Brown

It has become evident that Scott Brown, who won election with widespread national support, snookered the Tea Party members who backed him last fall.  His victory sent a message, but it was a Pyrrhic victory and a vacuous message.  The only one who benefited from all the excitement was Brown himself.  The Daily Caller notes:

"When asked about his general views on Tea Partiers, Brown — whose election in January has been hailed a sign of the power of the conservative grassroots activists — rejected the premise that the protesters concerned with runaway government spending should be solely credited with putting a Republican in the Massachusetts Senate seat for the first time in decades.

"'Did the Tea Party movement help me? Sure they did. So did 1.1 million other people in my state and so did others across the country,' Brown said.

"He added: 'So to have one particular party take credit — I’m appreciative. But I had a big tent in my election.'

"On Wednesday, Brown was noticeably absent from a Tea Party rally in Boston, leading some to question whether he’s snubbing a group without whose help he’d unlikely have won office. The senator was said to be busy in Washington attending a hearing on the Iranian nuclear program."

What were the effects of the Brown victory?  The widespread support for Brown was motivated by the belief that his election would send a message about the health bill. Many Tea Partiers devoted scarce resources to supporting him.  Brown's election sent a message, but the health bill was passed into law anyway.  Hence, the message sent was empty.  The real effect was that one more "Progressive" is now in office.

Who snookered the Tea Party? How were they duped? It seems that they allowed their imaginations to get the better of their sense of reality.

Glenn Beck has done a good job of questioning Brown post election.  But many conservatives were excessively supportive of Brown pre-election.  For instance, National Review wrote an article several weeks before the special election stressing the importance of Democrats' super majority (which turned out not to be true) and characterizing Brown as "anti-spending" and "anti-Washington," "perfectly suited to the political moment," which was surely an overstatement.

Brown's was the briefest political moment on record.  Normally readers learn much from every issue of  National Review, but NR blew it on Brown.  More realistically, at the time of the election "The Moderate Voice" called Brown an "independent."  The Moderate Voice added "he came to the race knowing exactly what he had to do in order to win as a Republican in this part of the country."

As well, Ed Morrissey of Hot Air Blog asked:

"do we really need another former state Senator with next to no experience in national politics on a major-party ticket?  Brown has a good sense of fiscal conservatism, but falls closer to Rudy Giuliani than to Mike Huckabee and Sarah Palin on social issues, which is one of the reasons Rudy got an invite to Massachusetts and prominent social conservatives did not."

I would question Brown's substantive credentials as a fiscal conservative.  I don't see how Brown differs very much from the majority of Democrats.  And as Morrissey points out, if Brown aims to get re-elected, he needs to kowtow to the voters of the Socialist Commonwealth of Taxachussets.

Conservatives are not exempt from the American tendency to engage in fads and crazes, or as Charles Mackay called them in 1841, "popular delusions and the madness of crowds."  Perhaps the mistaken emphasis on Brown's election was due to the mistaken belief, revealed in NR and Morrissey's blog, that the super-majority made a critical difference.  In fact, few of us would have known better, and those who did were probably professional politicians who did not mind squandering the Tea Party's resources.

If anything, the Brown incident should alert Tea Parties around the country that national races are risky; that national leadership cannot be and ought not to be trusted; and that a great deal of learning and experience will need to be gained over time if the Tea Party is to become an effective movement.

It ought to make little difference to Tea Parties if Brown is reelected in two years.  But if Tea Parties learned that initial appearances are frequently deceiving in politics; that scarce resources should be expended cautiously; and that a Republican from Massachusetts is probably a RINO, then much has been gained.  As was quoted in Conan the Barbarian, "the blow that does not break the back strengthens."

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