Last updated on 2013.02.02
Hey, Dr. Newquist! This is what you're talking about, right?
Senator John Thune spoke at the Spearfish Economic Development Corporation annual meeting Wednesday evening. Spearfish EDC tagged the Senator's appearance as a "keynote" address. However, Senator Thune didn't really establish a principal underlying theme or lay down a theme for the following program. Arguably, Thune's recycling of GOP talking points contradicted the spirit of the evening's discussion.
Thune's opening remarks mostly recycled Mitt Romney's campaign trope about how America is becoming more like Europe. (Endorsing Romney apparently requires one to say silly things.) He said that we don't want to follow the European economic model, which leads inevitably to Greek debt crises. He said everything Washington is doing is making it more expensive to do business. We must get away, said Thune, from expecting government to do everything for us and get back to our faith in the free market and entrepreneurship.
The Spearfish EDC meeting then proceeded to celebrate all the government-funded efforts Spearfish has made to interfere with natural free market forces and build businesses and quality of life in Spearfish. While meager compared to Madison's taxpayer tab for economic development, Spearfish EDC gets two thirds of its funding from taxpayers. Spearfish City Administrator Joe Neeb listed (and the audience applauded) Spearfish city government's active efforts to improve the quality of life in Spearfish: renovating Main Street, purchasing the hydroelectric plant primarily to maintain flow in Spearfish Creek for aesthetics, and investing ten percent of its budget in capital improvements.
The city is now considering investing in an expansion of the Spearfish Convention Center, which Neeb says has brought half a million visitors to Spearfish in the last dozen years. The city owns the convention center and leases it to the Holiday Inn. In other words, this wonderful driver of economic activity is not private property. It is socialism. Awfully European, wouldn't you say, Senator Thune?
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Senator Thune did surprise me by sounding an awful lot like his purported protégée, Rep. Kristi Noem. His dodgy retreats to stock talking points Wednesday made me think that (1) he and Kristi really are reading from the same script, and (2) he's really not that much better than Kristi.
Thune opened with the same John McCain joke about Congressional approval ratings that Noem used in her Rapid City town hall three weeks ago. He said that when approval ratings get down below ten percent, your support is down to blood relatives and staffers. Thune did add his own frosting, saying Congress's support is probably down to just staffers now (oops, check that: Joshua Shields is leaving, too).
Asked by me about TransCanada's statement that the Keystone XL pipeline will increase oil prices in the Midwest, Thune avoided a specific response and instead returned to the same general statements Noem and the rest of the Congressional GOP make in support of Big Oil. Never mind specific market analyses; just keep restating your faith in free-market assumptions.
One Thune supporter in the audience lamented that the Democrats are much better at using the media and asked Thune if the Republicans are discussing ways to better promote the party's message. Someone offered a nearly identical complaint at Noem's Feb. 4 Rapid City forum. Thune's response paralleled Noem's, saying that the President has the advantage of the bully pulpit. Thune then went further, making the utterly baseless and absurd claim that Democrats are better at speaking to people's feelings, while Republicans do a better job of arguing facts.
Wait, wait, wait: Is John Thune seriously telling us that John McCain and George W. Bush were the cold, aloof, professorial policy wonks, while Barack Obama and Al Gore were the super touchy-feely candidates that made everyone want to have a beer with them? What alternative reality did John Thune just try to pull me into?
Speaking of alternative realities, Midge Heymeier of the Northern Hills Patriots muddied the waters by asking Senator Thune about the grave and secret dangers of Agenda 21. Short form: anyone who mentions sustainability is a Marxist.
Agenda 21 is a favorite shouting point for John Birchers and other right-winguts not contributing to practical policy discussions. It's just another fringe conspiracy theory, but with all his friends on that fringe, Senator Thune must be aware of it, right?
"I'm not as acquainted with that as I should be," said Senator Thune.
His deft ignorance echoed Rep. Noem's feigned cluelessness on the National Defense Authorization Act, a key talking point of her Tea Party supporters (and arguably a much more substantive policy concern). I will bet Thune has heard the Agenda 21 talk just as I have. He knows just as well as I do that it's a tinfoil-hat distraction. To keep from stepping in the big buffalo chip Heymeier flipped into the meeting, Thune detoured us back to his gentle platitudes about engaging, participating, and reclaiming what is great about America.
Senator Thune is not as detached from reality as the Northern Hills Patriots. But like much of what Rep. Noem says, Senator Thune's keynote and gracious Q&A demonstrated inconsistencies between GOP rhetoric and how South Dakota actually does business.
Politico includes Thune on its list of ten Republicans who could jump in and save the party from a Romney collapse.