Sunday, July 6, 2014

McConnell to think tank: GOP must focus on helping middle class, not Wall Street or entrepreneurs

Sen. Mitch McConnell said in a keynote speech to a group of Republicans looking for ideas a few weeks ago "that the time had come for the GOP to stop being the handmaiden to Wall Street and instead attend to the anxieties of the middle class," Sam Tanenhaus reports in The New York Times Magazine.

The first quote in the story, and the only one from McConnell, has him "referring to the visionary hero of Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged, that sacred text of the libertarian right," Tanenhaus reports. He quotes McConnell as saying, “Our average voter is not John Galt. . . . Hymns to entrepreneurialism are, as a practical matter, largely irrelevant.”

The complete quote, according to a sponsor's transcript, was that Republicans in Washington, "in our rush to defend the American entrepreneur from daily depredations of an administration that seems to view any profit-making enterprise with deep suspicion, have often lost sight of the fact that our average voter is not John Galt. It’s a good impulse, to be sure. But for most Americans, whose daily concerns revolve around aging parents, long commutes, shrinking budgets, and obscenely high tuition bills, these hymns to entrepreneurialism are, as a practical matter, largely irrelevant. And the audience for them is probably a lot smaller than we think. So I do think we’d do well as a party to get down to the basics."

McConnell's speech was to a group of "reform conservatives," who he said are "animated in large part by a desire to prove that at least one party in Washington remains determined to change that and to show in the process that today’s Republican Party has something to offer those Americans beyond a mere rejection of what the other side is selling."

The senator touted three proposals he is sponsoring, including one to "allow working mothers to enter into a voluntary agreement with their employer whereby they would be able bank overtime compensation in the form of time-off rather than more pay." The other two measures he mentioned are longtime Republican favorites: a bill to boost charter schools and a national "right to work" law that would prohibit union contracts that require workers to join a union or pay dues.

In a more interesting part of the speech, McConnell gave his analysis of the national dialectic of the last 100-plus years: "As a coalition party, today’s Democrats simply don’t have room to innovate or to keep pace with the times. That’s why they seem to have been pushing the same ideas for more than a century now. They’re captive to a handful of interest groups that just won’t allow them to think big or innovatively. Occasionally, they’ll try to make a virtue of necessity by casting their commitment to a century-old agenda as a sign of their doggedness, but the truth is they’re simply trapped. It’s been left to us to fill the gaps. In a recent interview with Stephen Colbert, George Will noted that liking things that are old doesn’t make you a conservative; it makes you a liberal. His point wasn’t to suggest that conservatives have given up on preserving institutions that are working as they should. It was to highlight how often liberals won’t even discuss – won’t even discuss – updating or reforming those that aren’t."

McConnell is seeking not only re-election, but a Republican majority that would promote him from minority to majority leader. He devoted much of his speech to criticizing the way Majority Leader Harry Reid runs the Senate and how he would run it differently, allowing more votes on amendments, reinvigorating the committees and creating "a greater level of comity" among senators. In the question-and-answer session, he wouldn't say whether a Republican majority would reverse the rule change that prevented GOP filibusters of President Obama's appointments (except those to the Supreme Court).

The 3,200-word speech was given May 22 at the American Enterprise Institute, two days after McConnell won renomination in Kentucky's primary election. It was videostreamed live at the time, but we were just getting started on this project, so we missed it. Here's a transcript of McConnell's appearance. For a transcript of the entire event and more information about it, click here.

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