In the 2005 motion picture Cinderella Man, Russell Crowe’s character, Depression-era boxer James Braddock, is asked by a sports reporter why he returned a welfare payment, to which Braddock replied, “I believe we live in a great country, a country that’s great enough to help a man financially when he’s in trouble. But lately, I’ve had some good fortune, and I’m back in the black. And I just thought I should return it.”
Braddock understood free enterprise and the American dream — liberty and the pursuit of happiness. His type of thinking is what carried Americans through two world wars and the Great Depression, and his gratefulness that others would help him when he was down on his luck is virtually unheard of today. Braddock returned the welfare money when he was back on his financial feet, an action that author Arthur C. Brooks would call earned success — the ability to create value honestly through hard work and passion.
Brooks is author of The Battle: How the Fight between Free Enterprise and Big Government Will Shape America’s Future, an economic and social treatise that Newt Gingrich calls “the best succinct analysis of the values of the American people I have ever read.” The Wall Street Journal says, “The Battle is an argument for free-enterprise, with Mr. Brooks explaining how markets deliver not just higher growth but greater happiness.” And, it is the pursuit of happiness that is in real danger according to Brooks, who understands that unearned money and the redistribution of wealth do not bring happiness. In fact, James Braddock was at his unhappiest in Cinderella Man when he briefly and reluctantly went on the welfare rolls.
Brooks contends in a recent Washington Post column that “Money corresponds to happiness only through earned success.” In other words, the money earner is far happier than, say, the welfare recipient, the lottery winner, or the trust fund heir. Income that is not earned transports with it no personal sense of gain and no sense of satisfaction.
Brooks posits that America is in the midst of a serious battle between two competing visions for its future. This first is one in which America continues as a nation ordered around the principles of free enterprise and market forces with a limited government at its core. The second is a more alarming one, in which America turns down the path of European-style statism. Its centerpiece is the redistribution of wealth, which completely discards an individual’s right to the pursuit of happiness. Brooks warns that the current administration prefers the latter path, with our own president telling Arizona State graduates last spring that, as Brooks terms it, “it is beneath you to try to go out and get rich and famous.” Because of the insight it gives into what’s at stake for America in this precarious battle between these two opposing visions, Brooks’ book is one of the most important books of our time.
A second book essential to understanding America in 2010 is Scott Rasmussen and Doug Schoen’s Mad As Hell: How the Tea Party Movement is Fundamentally Remaking Our Two Party System. Steven Schier of The Atlantic says Mad As Hell “clarifies much about our contemporary politics and identifies important causes of our current political malaise. It is the best available guide to the politics of 2010.” Chris Ruddy, CEO of NewsMax, exclaims that “Mad As Hell tells the truth about the Tea Party movement. Throw out everything you’ve heard from the big media and get this book to find out how the Tea Party is reshaping America.”
Indeed, the Tea Party movement is reshaping America and it won’t be going away anytime soon. As co-author Doug Schoen asserted recently in The Daily Caller, “I do not think the Tea Party movement would go away [even] if the economy improved. There is too much dysfunctionality in Washington, too much desire for change in the electorate.” Certainly the unrest among the electorate is the driving force behind the Tea Party, and as Mad As Hell demonstrates, this is no ordinary populist movement.
The numbers in Mad As Hell quantify a populace fed up with a government that is drifting toward the European-style socialism that Arthur Brooks disparages in The Battle. Pervasive objection to big government is the impetus behind the protests of the Tea Party.
More government is not the answer to America’s economic crisis. These two books chronicle a national reassessment that may have its fullest expression to date in the November election. Two years into the Obama administration, it seems clear that Americans are switching from Kool-Aid to tea.
Colin Hanna is president of Let Freedom Ring.