In Horrible Gaffe, Scott Brown Straightforwardly Explains Conservative Philosophy

Former Massachusetts Senator Scott Brown, who is now hoping to return to the Senate from New Hampshire, got caught by the busy little candidate trackers at the Democratic group American Bridge saying what everyone will now acknowledge is a "gaffe" when he said, in response to a question about what he would do to create jobs: "Here's the thing, folks say, what are you going to do to create jobs? I am not going to create one job, it is not my job to create jobs. It's yours. My job is to make sure that government stays out of your way so that you can actually grow and expand." No doubt someone's preparing an ad right now based on the quote:

Brown is following in the footsteps of the man he hopes will be his leader come January, Mitch McConnell, who got asked in April what he would do to bring jobs to one particular corner of Kentucky, and responded, "That is not my job. It is the primary responsibility of the state Commerce Cabinet." Since then, McConnell's opponent, Alison Lundergan Grimes, has repeated this quote approximately 3.6 quintillion times.

Regular readers will know that I'm not one to say that "gaffes" reveal something fundamental about a candidate, particularly if on reflection the candidate would say that he'd prefer to phrase what he was saying differently. In this case, Brown could have made the same point in a less attack-ad-friendly way, by just leaving out the "it is not my job to create jobs" part, which he will no doubt be doing from this point forward.

But this incident does show part of the problem the party opposed to government faces when it's trying to appeal to voters who actually want things from their government. When your basic position is that government is inherently incompetent and corrupt, you don't have a lot to offer people if they're looking for help right now. The Republican argument is that their policies will help in the long term—cut taxes and regulations, then the economy will grow, and the whole country, including our town/country/state, will see more opportunity. But Democrats can be more direct, saying things like, let's pass an infrastructure bill, and we can hire a hundred construction workers to fix the crumbling bridge outside of town.

People who feel that they have a specific grievance with government are very open to the idea that everything would be fine if we got government out of their way, but those who feel like they could use some help aren't going to be as receptive. If your biggest problem is that you're working two crappy part-time jobs because you can't find a secure full-time job, you probably don't feel like government is in your way. That isn't to say you might not be persuaded when the Republican candidate comes to town and tells you that the reason you can't find a job is because Obamacare is killing capitalism (but don't worry, when we repeal it, we'll keep all the good stuff about it you like!), but it's going to be a much harder sell.

It may have been just a momentary slip of the tongue, maybe because he's gotten used to talking to audiences full of business owners, but when Brown talked about the government getting "out of your way so that you can actually grow and expand," you would have thought he was addressing the Chamber of Commerce. But from the video, this looks like an ordinary town meeting, the audience made up in large part of retirees, who probably aren't looking to "grow and expand."

This too is a longstanding Republican problem; as I've written about before: They've put business owners at the top of their moral hierarchy for so long that they've all but forgotten that most Americans are not actually entrepreneurs whose greatest concern is the top marginal tax rate. It just so happens that the people who can get immediate help from Republican policies are the businesspeople who would benefit in the short run from a tax break or a regulation that disappears. But other people—the kind who work for someone else and would like it if the government actually took affirmative steps to help them—are going to listen to arguments aimed at their bosses and shake their heads. 

I'm sure Scott Brown is going to try to walk this back, or at least reframe it. But what he said is a reflection of conservative philosophy, albeit put a little more bluntly than usual.  

Comments

"They've put business owners at the top of their moral hierarchy for so long that they've all but forgotten that most Americans are not actually entrepreneurs whose greatest concern is the top marginal tax rate."

Heck, that doesn't even describe most entrepreneurs. Entrepreneurs are usually a lot more concerned with keeping the doors open and the lights on. An entrepreneur who has to worry about the top marginal tax rate is a happy entrepreneur indeed.

Actually, the audience was quite happy with what he said. Several people turned around and scowled at the woman who asked the question about job creation, and at the end the audience applauded pretty enthusiastically.

There were many retirees, yes, but they were fat, complacent retirees. These are apparently people who think that Social Security direct deposit every month comes from some beneficent welfare agency magically set up by the "Wealth Creators".

The author’s statement: “Why Republicans have trouble offering people immediate help” does highlight a difference between the two approaches to get to the same result. The one side goes for the “teach a person to fish...” approach (unfortunately usually includes work, patience, and some frustration). The other side is big into instant gratification (and feeling good about the good they are doing). This also leads to a pithy expression that likely portrays most “immediate help:” “Short lived is the heat you get when you piss in your boot.” (Norwegian folk saying)

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