A salute to Scott Brown

As Barack Obama completes his first year in office, observers may wonder how his hope and change thing is working out. Tonight, Massachusetts voters provided the answer. Americans are hoping for change, alright, but the change they desire is change from the leading policies of the Obama administration.
Massachusetts is a heavily Democratic state, arguably the bluest in the country. It has not elected a Republican Senator since 1972. The seat in issue had been held by Democrats since 1953 – 47 of them by the late Ted Kennedy. And Scott Brown came out of nowhere to run an insurgent campaign whose success defied enormous odds.
In a campaign in which Mr. Brown’s well-used GMC truck took on a starring role, the best metaphor for his triumph might be a chariot race. Here I turn to Charlton Heston’s memoir In the Arena.
One of the book’s highlights is Heston’s recollection of his work preparing for the chariot race in the film Ben-Hur. Heston had gone to Rome several weeks before shooting was to begin in order to work on a practice track. “I had to learn to drive the chariot,” Heston recalled. “I’d long since realized the crucial importance of learning the physical skill you need for a part before the play goes into rehearsal or the film starts.”
Stuntman and second unit director Yakima Canutt was responsible for the orchestration of the chariot scene. He obtained more than 100 horses to make up the eight teams, with backups. Heston recalls training at least two hours a day for six weeks with the four teams of white horses Canutt had picked for him.
“Over the weeks Yak made me into a modestly competent charioteer,” Heston acknowledged, and yet he still fretted that his skills were not adequate to the scene. “Y’know, Yak, I feel pretty comfortable running this team now, but we’re all alone here. We start shooting this sucker in ten days. I’m not so sure I can cut it with seven other teams out there.” Heston finishes the story: “Yak looked at me and pushed his cap back on his head. ‘Chuck, you just make sure y’stay in the chariot. I guarantee yuh gonna win the damn race.'”
Heston told this story when he came out to Minnesota to speak on behalf of Republican senate candidate Rod Grams in the fall of 1994. Heston advised Rod that he would win the damn race if he stayed in the chariot. (Grams stayed in the chariot and won the race.)
Watching from a distance as Brown campaigned against Martha Coakley over the closing days of the campaign, I thought of Heston’s chariot story. The breadth and intensity of support evidenced for Brown at his rallies showed him to be the beneficiary of forces carrying him to an improbable victory. If he could keep himself from falling out of the chariot, he was going to win the race.
What horses pulled him to victory? Here Brown must be given his due as an outstanding candidate. He is likable. He is handsome. He has a beautiful family. He gives the appearance of everyman, an appearance he took advantage of with his theme of man against the machine.
Considering the forces that carried him to victory, however, Brown was not an impassive beneficiary of external forces. Brown is “the man who” (quoting Lincoln’s tribute to Jefferson with respect to the Declaration of Independence), in the concrete pressure of the struggle, “had the coolness, forecast and capacity” to stake his campaign on opposition to the nationalization of the American health care system, to one-party rule, and to the conferral on terrorist enemies the rights of American citizens. Brown yoked his chariot to those horses and they carried him to the most improbable of victories.
UPDATE: This has been cross-posted by the Christian Science Monitor as “Scott Brown: The Ben-Hur of Massachusetts politics.” Thanks to Joshua Burek for the edits.
Rep. Patrick Kennedy is flush with addled thoughts of ancient Rome that he uses to criticize the voters’ supposed blood lust. Kennedy strikes a suitably Neronian note: “It’s like in Roman times, they’d be trotted out to the coliseum and the lions would be brought out. I mean, they’re wanting blood and they’re not getting it so they want to protest. And, you know, you can’t blame them. But frankly, the fact is we inherited this mess, and it’s becoming ours.”


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