George McGovern

Labour’s small business focus and their problem with it

Liam Hehir has identified a problem with Labour’s focus on small business.

It is obvious, their complete lack of talent in their caucus of anyone who has run a small business…and of course their spokesperson who has only ever written a few papers while interning in the House of Commons a few years back.

It was encouraging to see Andrew Little push his party to update its definition of working people beyond the narrow paradigm of the cloth-capped worker on the assembly line.

The man has a pretty good chance of being New Zealand’s next prime minister, after all, so it’s good to see him take a realistic view of work in the modern economy.

One difficulty he might have is that his caucus remains light on small and medium-sized business experience. There are only a few members of the caucus, for example, who will have an understanding of what it actually means to grapple with GST, manage debtors, meet payroll and personally bear the costs of regulatory requirements. These are unique pressures that you don’t get as an employee of the state or working in a large company.

I have always liked the story of how former United States senator and Democratic presidential nominee George McGovern came to appreciate this. After losing a re-election in the Republican wave election of 1980, McGovern needed something to do in his retirement years. Having long held an interest in hospitality, he decided to use his savings to buy a small hotel and conference facility in Stratford, Connecticut.

It was not long before a terrible truth dawned on McGovern: being a small businessman was much, much harder than it looked when he was a history professor and a politician. His business went under in less than three years. Most of McGovern’s savings went with it.

In the years that followed, McGovern often wrote about his business failure with great intellectual honesty. He said a big part of the reason his business went bust was that the costs of complying with tightening health and safety requirements had become crippling. Complicated tax rules and business regulations also meant that hotel management had to dedicate a lot of time to form-filling and reporting to various agencies. That left less time to spend actually running and promoting the hotel so that it could attract paying customers.

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Why they didn’t see it coming

Many conservatives bought into the partisan spin around Mitt Romney and his Mittmentum that failed to materialise. They bought into all the bullshit about dodgy polls. And they followed other conservative pundits blindly down the wrong alley.

It is easy to close oneself off inside a conservative echo chamber. And right-leaning outlets like Fox News and Rush Limbaugh’s show are far more intellectually closed than CNN or public radio. If you’re a rank-and-file conservative, you’re probably ready to acknowledge that ideologically friendly media didn’t accurately inform you about Election 2012. Some pundits engaged in wishful thing; others feigned confidence in hopes that it would be a self-fulfilling prophecy; still others decided it was smart to keep telling right-leaning audiences what they wanted to hear.

But guess what?

You haven’t just been misinformed about the horse race. Since the very beginning of the election cycle, conservative media has been failing you. With a few exceptions, they haven’t tried to rigorously tell you the truth, or even to bring you intellectually honest opinion. What they’ve done instead helps to explain why the right failed to triumph in a very winnable election.

Why do you keep putting up with it?

Conservatives were at a disadvantage because Romney supporters like Jennifer Rubin and Hugh Hewitt saw it as their duty to spin constantly for their favored candidate rather than being frank about his strengths and weaknesses. What conservative Washington Post readers got, when they traded in Dave Weigel for Rubin, was a lot more hackery and a lot less informed about the presidential election.

Conservatives were at an information disadvantage because so many right-leaning outlets wasted time on stories the rest of America dismissed as nonsense. WorldNetDaily brought you birtherism. Forbes brought you Kenyan anti-colonialism. National Review obsessed about an imaginary rejection of American exceptionalism, misrepresenting an Obama quote in the process, and Andy McCarthy was interviewed widely about his theory that Obama, aka the Drone Warrior in Chief, allied himself with our Islamist enemies in a “Grand Jihad” against America. Seriously?

Conservatives were at a disadvantage because their information elites pandered in the most cynical, self-defeating ways, treating would-be candidates like Sarah Palin and Herman Cain as if they were plausible presidents rather than national jokes who’d lose worse than George McGovern.