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March 23rd, 2010

Election 2010: The Year of Howard Beale

howard-bealeBy James Johnson

On Sunday night, Democrats in the U.S. House of Representatives hijacked the most effective free-market healthcare system in the world and subjected it to the chronic failure and bureaucratic incompetence of the federal government.

In doing so, they have also done something else. They have nationalized state politics. From the Congress to the county courthhouse, many voters will vote straight-ticket “Republican” simply because of Obama-Care (and whatever else comes next).

By ramming a federal takeover of one-sixth of the nation’s economy down the throats of an unwilling American public, Democrats have unwittingly awakened the ghost of Howard Beale, and have turned him lose on the electorate.

In the 1976 film “Network,” actor Peter Finch played Howard Beale, a television network news anchor, who, on the verge of a nervous breakdown, completely “loses it” during a live newscast.

In a rain-soaked trench coat, Beale tells his viewing audience, “You’ve got to get mad!… Get up, go to the window, open it, stick your head out, and yell, ‘I’m as mad as hell, and I’m not going to take this anymore!’” They do. And he becomes an overnight sensation.

Why? Because he knows their frustrations, gives voice to their anger, and tells them what to do about it. He connects with his audience, and the network ratings go through the roof.

The unscripted (and unteleprompted) rant touches a nerve in ordinary people — people who just want to live quietly, raise their families, and play by the rules — but people who, nevertheless, must endure an economic crisis, soaring living costs, rising taxes, and declining standards of decency. And his voice becomes their voice.

On Sunday night, the whole 2010 political game changed. Granted, it was already going to be a Republican year, but it didn’t have to be a Republican tsunami. Now it will be.

Obama-Care is now front and center in the mind of most Americans. It (or quite possibly the President himself) has become the object of nationwide rage, or as Ronald Reagan would put it, “the focus of evil in the modern world.” And now, nearly every state and county election will be nationalized to some degree.

Concern for potholes and bottle bills will give way to alarm over the monstrous growth of the federal government and the unconstitutionality of the Obama-Care takeover of the private medical industry.

Candidates will now have to field hotter and perhaps ruder questions then in past years, because the anger is way more palpable. Conservatives who speak clearly and boldly can win, even against entrenched incumbents, if they tap into this rage.

Why? Because these are not ordinary times. America is in crisis, and the times demand a certain type of leader. Now is not the time for the summer soldier or the sunshine patriot. Nor is the perennial peacetime leader needed. People today are looking for wartime leaders. They want Churchills, not Chamberlains.

Not since the Vietnam War have Americans been so angry and so fed-up with go-along and get-along politicians. They want a new breed of leader. They want a Braveheart — one who comes to “pick a fight” with Longshanks.

The Democrats have given the Republicans a huge gift: a “Get out of jail free” card. The judgment from 2006 and 2008 has passed, and a new day has dawned.

Anger toward the Democrats is so strong right now, that the GOP is in a position not only to take back control of Congress but also many state legislatures and county courthouses.

Republicans had better not blow it this time. Let us not repeat the spend-a-holic tendencies of the first six years of the Bush administration. That will only get us back into the wilderness.

I recommend the Howard Beale strategy: get mad, get up, and speak out. And if necessary, wear a trench coat.

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About the Author

James M. Johnson
James M. Johnson is the president of the Iowa Republican Assembly, which works to get constitutionally minded conservatives elected to leadership positions in the Republican Party, and to elective office on the local, state, and federal level. He has worked on over 50 political campaigns and holds an M.A. in public policy with a concentration in political communication.

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