In the aftermath of Scott Brown’s stunning upset election victory in Massachusetts, pundits will be debating the meaning and political implications for weeks to come. However, one fact is incontrovertibly clear. The race hinged on the independent voters.
In Massachusetts, 50% of the registered voters are independent, as opposed to 37% Democratic and 12% Republican. In this week’s election, independents voted overwhelmingly for Brown, giving him a 52-to-47% victory — in a state where Barack Obama easily won 62% of the vote in 2008. This enormous swing shows that the independents represent a powerful political force that neither party can take for granted.
Independents are also the driving force behind the tea party rallies. Many tea party supporters have been quite explicit in warning that their opposition to the policies of our current Democratic president and Congress should not be mistaken as automatic support for the Republicans.
So what do the independents want? In a word, limited government.
Scott Brown ran on a platform opposing the big government agenda of President Obama in general and the ObamaCare health plan in particular. His message resonated with independent Massachusetts voters tired of a government running amuck with bank bailouts, “stimulus” programs, and “Cash for Clunkers” — and threatening to take over their health care.
Independents in other parts of the country have also been speaking out for limited government. My home state of Colorado has been in the national spotlight recently because the Democrats here have been faltering, highlighted most recently by Governor Bill Ritter’s decision to retire rather than run for re-election.
In a recent New York Times story on Colorado, small businessman Ron Vaughn spoke for many independent voters when he said:
I want the Democrats out of my pocket and Republicans out of my bedroom. The one word I would use for what’s going on in Washington is embarrassing. I am embarrassed for Republicans and for Democrats.
Independents across America know that the battle in Washington is not just about concrete issues such as health care or banking regulations. Instead, it’s about the more fundamental issue of the proper role of government in our lives. Ron Vaughn and other independents are saying that they want a small government limited to performing its proper function — namely, protecting individual rights.
As Ayn Rand once noted:
If man is to live on earth, it is right for him to use his mind, it is right to act on his own free judgment, it is right to work for his values and to keep the product of his work. If life on earth is his purpose, he has a right to live as a rational being.
Genuine rights are not granted to us by elected officials or supernatural beings. Instead, they are objective conditions required by man’s nature for survival in a social context. If men are to live together, we require a government that protects those rights — such as our rights to free speech, property, and contract.
Only those who initiate physical force or fraud can violate our rights. A proper government protects our rights by protecting us from criminals who steal, murder, rape, etc., as well as from foreign aggressors. But it should otherwise leave honest people alone to live peacefully. In particular, government should protect our right to enjoy the fruits of our labors, not rob us to pay for “stimulus packages” or “universal health care.”
The Founding Fathers understood this when they declared that all men possessed the rights to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” Independent voters in Massachusetts understood this when they braved bad weather and long lines to vote for Scott Brown.
Scott Brown’s victory also reinforced the earlier message sent by independent voters in the November 2009 elections. To the extent that the Republicans focused on limited government and steered clear of divisive “social issues” such as abortion and gay marriage, they won major victories in the governor’s races in New Jersey and Virginia, wresting those seats from the Democrats. In contrast, when Conservative Party candidate Doug Hoffman tried to emphasize his stand on social issues in the NY-23 congressional race, he alienated independents and lost.
From the tea party protests to the polling booths, independents have been declaring that they want a limited government that protects individual rights.
The Republicans have won an important victory in Massachusetts — one that will reverberate throughout the country as the 2010 election cycle heats up. But they shouldn’t get overconfident.
If Republicans choose to run on a platform of limited government, economic freedom, and individual rights, then they will retain the support of the independents and win. But if they take these recent election victories as a mandate to promote a divisive “social issues” agenda, then they’ll once again drive away the independents and lose.
The independents have spoken — and they want the Democrats out of their pockets and the Republicans out of their bedrooms.
Will our politicians listen?