Writing at NRO, Christian Schneider is annoyed at Tim Pawlenty’s playing up his humble beginnings. He asks, “is it really relevant to anything?” The answer is: absolutely!
Humble beginnings, in themselves, do not qualify oneself for office any more than going to a prep school disqualifies. As Schneider correctly notes, it is what one will do in office that matters. I also agree with Schneider that family background is not a reliable predictor of future political behavior.
But here is why it matters politically for Republicans. Those of us who don’t belong to the country club set get annoyed that a philosophy of free markets and small government is often attacked as making the rich richer and the poor poorer. Indeed, we see free market capitalism as—far and away!—the greatest anti-poverty, pro-human dignity system ever conceived by the mind of man. Though many in the libertarian crowd like to pretend that there is little difference between Democrats and Republicans on this issue, the truth is that there are vast differences. This is seen, for instance, in the fact that blue states are raising taxes to a much greater degree than red states (see Jason’s post on this). Though some Democrats claim to be fiscally conservative (which usually means they want to reduce the deficit with tax increases), there is basically no such thing as a small government Democrat in America.
As much as they might preach an ideology of free markets and small government, the GOP gets attacked as country club fat cats. The problem is that the GOP has the frustrating tendency to act like country club fat cats. Take, for example, the party’s recent defense of massive oil company subsidies at a time when gas prices are sky high and the current unemployment rate is still unacceptable. Elements within the party view any policy change that causes anyone to pay more taxes as a tax increase and has to be opposed on principle. This is stupid. The truth is that our tax code is full of “tax expenditures,” which are essentially government spending, often for corporate welfare, implemented through the tax code as a result of rent-seeking behavior, usually by country club fat cats. Exxon Mobil’s first quarter profits were in the neighborhood of 25 gajillion dollars, yet the GOP tries to pass off subsidies to oil companies as small government.
But we will never get smaller government unless the GOP becomes better at packaging smaller government philosophy in terms that ordinary working American can see as something that benefits them in the long run. Given the tremendous economic illiteracy in the nation, the active misinformation by the leftist media elites, and the fact that there actually are many country club fat cats in the GOP, this is a monumental task. Certainly, the messenger matters. I’m not endorsing Pawlenty and would happily endorse some prep school snot if I liked his/her policy agenda. But, yes, beginnings do matter in politics. A lot.
In short, a Republican who can say that he knows—really knows—what life is like for working Americans and who actively engages those Americans in the ideas of free markets and small government, will have a tremendous leg up in a general election campaign. Republican voters, even that country club fat cats, should remember that.