Hammocks and Hammers

Greg Sargent draws attention to a conference call (or “tele-town hall,” which explains why the Des Moines Register‘s Jennifer Jacobs was allowed to listen in) Scott Walker held with Iowa conservative activists. Jacobs seemed to think what was most newsworthy about Walker’s comments were his boast that he was the kind of “fresh face” Mitt Romney said he was deferring to when he announced he wasn’t running in 2016. But Greg focused on something else:

Walker reprises one of Paul Ryan’s old favorites — the comparison of the safety net with a “hammock”:

“I see a president who seems to feels success should be measured by how many people are dependent on the government,” Walker said. Under Obama, government assistance has become less of a safety net and more of “a hammock,” he said.

I can’t find any audio of this, so it’s hard to judge the full thrust of what he meant, but this carries echoes of Ryan’s infamous suggestion that the safety net is at risk of becoming “a hammock that lulls able-bodied people to lives of dependency and complacency, that drains them of their will and their incentive to make the most of their lives.”

Greg goes on to wonder if this sort of talk could make Walker a target for, say, Jeb Bush, who could attack him for descending into 47-percent talk.

Well, I doubt it. It’s one thing for a Republican to depart from the standard script. It’s another all together to criticize another Republican for sticking to it, which is what an attack on Walker for talking about “hammocks” would represent. This isn’t some sort of novel Ryan heresy based on excessive consumption of Ayn Rand; it’s pretty standard conservative fare. What got Romney into trouble was quantifying the number of Americans he considered mooching bums, and dismissing them as incorrigible–not suggesting mooching bums exist and are a problem.

But here’s something else Greg noticed from the call that is very interesting:

Walker talked about some of the death threats made against him by those who opposed his conservative reforms. One threatened to “gut my wife like a deer,” and another note said that if his wife didn’t stop him, he’d be “the first Wisconsin governor ever assassinated,” he said. The threats are part of the reason he’s “exploring that very real possibility of stepping up and providing a new level of leadership,” he said during the 30-minute call.

“Part of me looks back and thinks that maybe God put me and my family through all this for a purpose – and it wasn’t just to get things done in Wisconsin, and it wasn’t just to win all those elections in a state that normally doesn’t go Republican. Maybe it was to set us to … help get our country on the right track.”…

A Fort Dodge man asked Walker if he could use the same approach he used in “defeating unions” to take on liberals in Washington “and get some spending control bills and repeal Obamacare.”

“Absolutely,” Walker answered.

Walker’s getting into a real groove in using the “death threats” he and his family received as a sign of the martyrdom–a sort of stigmata–Christian conservatives are expected to confess these days. Sarah Palin couldn’t do it better. Beyond that, though, he’s advertising his union-bashing not simply as an end in itself, but as an opening bid for the nastiness he will inflict on liberals in Washington as a sort of divine hammer. That, in addition to his electability argument, is pretty powerful to the “base.”

UPDATE: Moe Lane of RedState wrote an extremely nasty post focusing on my use of the word “supposedly” above as a suggestion Walker might not have actually received death threats. He went on to “prove” their existence with a bunch of accounts, mostly from conservative media. Lane doesn’t appear to realize the argument I was making had nothing to do with the authenticity of the threats, which is why I didn’t bother to research them. Death threats happen to pols all the time (along with a lot of other crazy communications). They are despicable and often criminal and I don’t wish them on anybody. But it’s Walker’s cynical use of the threats that bugs me, and that would be the case if he’s getting even more of them than he lets on.

UPDATE II: I’m removing the word “supposedly” from the post to avoid any additional confusion over what I was saying.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.