Last Tuesday night was just plain fun. Endless pundits have analyzed Scott Brown’s victory but for me, while I am very concerned about the many issues confronting our nation, the bottom line was straightforward: David vs. Goliath. An easily dismissed, good guy brought down an arrogant, inflated and heavy-handed party machine. Now comes the hard part.
I recently enjoyed a January 25th Wall Street Journal Marketplace section article which I believe might have captured the best advice I could offer the incoming Senator. The Marriott chain of hotels is adding some boutique hotels to their brand. While Marriott clearly has its concerns about losing a well crafted image by branching out, the owners of the boutique hotels have the opposite concern; will they lose their individuality? One quote in the article jumped out at me. A prospective hotelkeeper says, “The key for us is to maintain our appearance to the public that we are still an independent brand and not part of a chain that tends to get rooted in what I’ll call sameness.”
Now, there are some huge plusses in sameness. As a prospective hotel guest, I like knowing that my room will be predictably clean and pleasant. A large chain’s tried and tested web site is a plus. Being able to rely on quality control measures inspires confidence. At the same time, it is less exciting to stay at a hotel that looks exactly like the hotel one has stayed at in ten other cities. Large chains simply can’t offer the charm and personality of smaller hotels. During our family’s travels, one of the most enjoyable overnight experiences we have had was at a small bed and breakfast in Oregon. We also have had nightmare experiences at similarly unique places. If the boutique hotel owners and Marriott can craft a deal providing the guarantee of top notch service and accommodations without sacrificing the singular experience of a boutique hotel, both sides and the consumer will win.
Which brings me back to Scott Brown. Doesn’t he face the same challenge? Last Tuesday’s election was a repudiation of the president and the bait and switch game he played with the American public. When Barack Obama promised transparency during his election campaign, most Americans thought would apply his transparency promise to governing processes. As it turned out he meant transparency in national defense, putting American lives at risk by making security information public while his health care bill was being secretly crafted in closed sessions. It became clear over the last few months that his calls for bipartisanship meant embracing Hugo Chavez while shunning Republicans. His party deserved to lose and it did.
But the Republican Party did not necessarily win. Scott Brown won, conservative fiscal principles won and Americans won. The election held as strong a message for Republicans as for Democrats.
The November 2008 election which took place over a year ago was a wrenching one for me. As a child, my mother used to take me with her when she voted. I actually have no idea for whom she voted in any election, but she transmitted the message that voting is a solemn privilege and responsibility. In the last presidential election the choice was between two candidates, each of whom I thought would be disastrous for America, though in drastically different ways.
After much discussion with my husband and hours of deliberation, for the first time in my voting experience, I left the section for president and vice-president unmarked. This was the opposite of apathy; it was an intentional message. No matter what party I am registered with, I am an independent voter. Don’t take my vote for granted. I think a lot of other Americans might feel like me.
I see last Tuesday’s Massachusetts’ vote as giving the same message. Mr. Brown is a Republican and his challenge will be to be a team player while still retaining an identity as a man of integrity and principle. Unfortunately, almost by definition in politics, there will be times those two needs will clash. What will he do if the party asks him to campaign for a candidate whom he thinks will make a poor elected official? Or to trade his support for a bad bill in order to get someone else’s vote for a good one?
Will the Republicans only rejoice in the Democrats well-deserved comeuppance? Or will they recognize that the entire game of politics and power is becoming repugnant to many Americans? The answer will affect Senator Brown. The choices he makes when party and principle clash will tell us if last Tuesday night was a step towards America’s salvation or just a fun evening.