Commentary Magazine


Brown Camp Hits Warren’s Own “You Didn’t Build That” Moment

Politico’s James Hohmann points readers of his “Morning Score” to a two-and-a-half minute web ad the Scott Brown campaign will deploy against Elizabeth Warren. It capitalizes on President Obama’s “you didn’t build that” line by tying it to Warren, who made similar comments earlier in the campaign. It’s a powerful ad, using audio and video of Democratic presidents–Kennedy, Johnson, Clinton–as well as a few Republicans to drive home the extent to which the current Democratic Party has veered leftward, away from historically bipartisan agreement on the virtue of private industry.

The video then shows Obama delivering his infamous line, and closes with Warren’s–a much harsher version. Warren is frowning, raising her voice, and pointing fingers; as a demagogue, she puts Obama to shame (and that’s saying something). The contention that the Democratic Party has moved left is rather obvious; no one believes that Harry Truman, with his overt religiosity and lack of a college education, could earn the modern Democratic Party’s presidential nomination. Equally out of place would be John Kennedy, simultaneously cutting taxes across the board–including for the rich–while promising that we would “pay any price, bear any burden” for the cause of liberty and to ensure the survival of “those human rights to which this nation has always been committed.”

But everyone knows the end of Johnson’s administration was the end of an era for the Democrats. It’s the consistent appearance of a living ex-president, Bill Clinton, that marks current GOP messaging strategy. The sudden appreciation for the opposing party’s past standard-bearers is common to both the Democrats and Republicans. Once they were pinko commies and neo-fascists, now they are centrist Democrats and compassionate Republicans. Even Bush saw the need for comprehensive immigration reform, says one. Even Clinton signed welfare reform, says the other.

But Clinton polls better among the nation and his own party than Bush, so he will find a place for himself in this campaign on both sides. Democrats will ask him to campaign for them, preferring him to Obama. Republicans will remind Democrats at every turn just how “reasonable” Clinton was compared to Obama. Mitt Romney hit this theme after Obama’s heavy-handed attempt to gut welfare reform by executive fiat:

“President Obama now wants to strip the established work requirements from welfare,” Romney said.  “The success of bipartisan welfare reform, passed under President Clinton, has rested on the obligation of work. The president’s action is completely misdirected. Work is a dignified endeavor, and the linkage of work and welfare is essential to prevent welfare from becoming a way of life.”

The Brown campaign’s video is only the latest, but almost surely not the last, time voters will see the GOP attempt to plant a flag on centrist territory abandoned by Obama. Because of Obama’s lack of private-sector experience, and Warren’s apparent attempt to claim minority status–paired with an inability to substantiate that claim–to get ahead in the academic world, the two make easy targets for such ads. Their opponents can criticize them not only for saying such nonsense, but for believing it too.

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