The nation has spent the past year paying for the sins of the Republican Party. Conservatism was corrupted by big government coupled with fiscal recklessness. Under the Bush administration, federal government spending increased significantly, and today, the national debt has climbed to over $12 trillion. As a conservative, I have little compassion for the so-called compassionate conservatism that I hold partially responsible for getting us into this mess. Republicans should have known better.
But with the health-care fiasco has emerged as an opportunity for my party to redeem itself by returning to its core principles. Nowhere is that more evident than in my home state of Massachusetts, where the race for the late Ted Kennedy’s seat in the Senate is up for grabs and too close to call.
In a state where Democrats easily outnumber Republicans, Scott Brown has made me uncharacteristically optimistic about the prospects for a Republican upset. While this measure is hardly a scientific indication of what’s in store at the polls today, if you drive down my street — which a little over a year ago boasted many “Change We Can Believe In” yard signs and bumper stickers — you will notice a striking number of Scott Brown signs. As Brown has stated, it’s not Kennedy’s seat — it’s the people’s seat.
The people are speaking, and for the first time in a long time, the voices of conservative and independent voters matter in Massachusetts.
Though Bay Staters tend to lean left, they cast their vote based on the candidate. They voted for Reagan twice in the ’80s; in the past two decades they’ve voted for Republican governors four times largely for their fiscal conservatism. They switched to Democrats in 2006 due to Governor Deval Patrick’s now-tired platform of hope and change — specifically, “Together We Can.”
Yet, once the politics of hope were handed the reins of government, voters began to ask: Together we can … do what? As Patrick’s low approval ratings suggest, Massachusetts voters are fed up, and rightly so: The economic problems of today may not be the fault of Democrats, but their programs have not offered Americans much hope. We never got the promised property tax relief and spending cuts and instead faced a 25 percent hike in sales tax. Patrick’s administration, like Obama’s, has made those of us in Massachusetts long for the Republican leadership of yore.
Martha Coakley, the Democratic candidate, gives us little reason to change our minds. The problem, as it was in the 1990s, is “the economy, stupid.” And neither Massachusetts nor the nation can afford Martha Coakley. She calls giving constitutional rights to terrorists and incurring the expenses involved in using U.S. courts to try them keeping the nation safe “smartly.” She wants to raise taxes further and favors another stimulus package even though the first one didn’t work and has pushed the nation further into debt.
On the other hand, Scott Brown understands Massachusetts taxpayers — who have already taken steps to insure nearly 98 percent of state residents — do not want to and shouldn’t have to pay more than their fair share for health care. But his candidacy offers so much more than that. He offers hope not just for the Republican Party, but to our generation. He offers hope that we will not be saddled with the excesses of an ill-conceived health-care bill and that we can restore balanced budgets in federal and state governments as well as in the home. His issues may not tear at the heart strings of college students like those of social justice at home or abroad, but we must address them to keep America strong during this decade and beyond.
Conservatism failed because it lost touch with its central tenets — namely, fiscal responsibility. Brown offers a return to these principles and a path to redemption. Ultimately, there is little question our generation will have to pay for the missteps of the past. The only question remaining is: how much? Principled yet pragmatic Republicans like Brown offer the best shot at damage control.
Lauren Noble is a junior in Pierson College.