In one of the recent TV ads that his truck is starring in, Scott Brown reminisces about his hard early life. “My mom had to work more than one job, just to get by,” he says, adding that the challenges he has faced “made me want to fight for others who are trying to get ahead.”
Our junior Senator, it seems to me, does not often cast himself in this role of advocate of the downtrodden. Despite his own experience (as he says in his memoir, his family was on welfare for a time), his much more familiar message is that if we’d just throw off that old wet blanket of governmental regulation and let Americans be Americans again, help for those less fortunate would be unnecessary.
But OK, I’d be glad to be wrong. What kind of person trying to get ahead would Scott Brown want to fight for? How about a guy like John Rezende, who was the subject of a column by Yvonne Abraham in the Globe a couple years ago? After John lost his job and his house was destroyed by fire, his family relied on government assistance for a while. Then John got a job at a nursing home in New Bedford. By showing up reliably for night shifts and double shifts, John worked his way up from a starting wage to a living wage. He would never have been able to make it, he said, without the 1996 Chevy Tahoe he got from a charity called the Good News Garage. “My life is 110 percent better with this vehicle.”
To help ensure that John would be able to support his family without welfare, the state provided one year’s worth of support for his new transportation. New and probationary employees are especially vulnerable to being fired for reasons like absenteeism, and under this program (instituted by in 2006 by the administration of noted welfare softie Mitt Romney), the state covered the first year’s cost of insurance, excise tax, repairs and a membership to AAA in case John’s vehicle broke down. In order even to apply for the program you needed to have a job and no other way to get to it, and additional hoops to jump through followed; only 60 or so applications were approved annually.
Is John Rezende, the guy whose life is 110 percent better with a job and with the 1996 Chevy Tahoe that helped him keep it, somebody that Scott Brown, the guy with the 2005 GMC Canyon he won’t stop talking about, would want to fight for?
When Scott Brown heard about the car ownership program that had helped John Rezende (he heard about it from the Herald of course), he immediately filed an amendment to the state budget to shut it down. Statistics from the Patrick administration showing that this very small program had reduced the number of people receiving welfare and had saved the state money were ignored, as were the realities of the lives of working people. “It’s one thing if they are out in east Osh Gosh, but a lot of people in Lawrence and Lowell are getting these cars…Give me a break,” Brown fumed to the Herald, as though a job within walking distance is readily available to every resident of Lawrence or that public transportation in Lowell runs 24 hours a day.
So when Scott Brown invokes the economic hardships his mother went through, remember that his point is not to defend the value of government assistance. It’s merely to add a veneer of working class credibility, the better to poach support from those who are hurt by the policies he endorses. Whenever possible, he exploits resentments over issues like welfare. As the robber baron Jay Gould, a master of the art, once said, “I can get one half of the working class to murder the other half.”