While Kelly Ayotte is helping Neil Gorsuch to walk the halls of Congress and meet and greet senators, Susan Collins is suddenly becoming a royal pain in the backside for this administration. The moderate Maine GOP senator has been on the no side for 2 Cabinet choices. Her no vote did not manage to prevent Betsy DeVos from being successfully nominated to Secretary of Education.

But she was also part of the GOP four (along with Alaska’s Murkowski who also opposed DeVos, South Carolina’s Tim Scott, and Georgia’s Johnny Isakson) that have effectively forced Andy Puzder to withdraw his nomination for Secretary of Labor. The optics on Puzder weren’t worth going to battle over for the administration, even though it adds up to a rough couple of days for the administration.

Now Senator Collins is indicating that she will also give a thumbs down on EPA nominee Scott Pruitt. Do the current storms battering the White House mean she is suddenly emboldened? Or would she have voted this way, regardless? And is she as bound to labor unions in general as she clearly is to the teacher’s unions?

She may be, but her opposition on Puzder is perhaps a little more understandable than her no vote on DeVos. Especially from the perspective of the White House. That’s because under-employed and unemployed, and not-even-looking-anymore, white males with high school or less were and are a key part of Trump’s supporters. And in a world that fetishizes disruption and ignores marginalized workers, any doubts about a potential Secretary of Labor resonate a lot more strongly than they might have in the mid-90’s, for example.

In a world where Elon Musk – at a World Government Summit in Dubai no less – pronounces that we must Borg ourselves or be incinerated. In a world where if you drive a truck or taxi, you are probably old and need to die anyway to make room for progress. Where anyone with an IQ less than 120 – never mind 100 – needs to get an implant. In this type of world, it matters what type of signals you send to working men and women, and to those who would like to work, and especially to those who have given up trying to obtain work.

But that does not mean continuing to feed the welfare monster that might write checks to the marginalized, but has not been truly successful at helping them regain a productive and satisfying life. Arthur C. Brooks has just published a wonderful article on not just what to do to help those who are in poverty and marginalized, but why we do it. The what is a fairly pragmatic but rather inclusive list of conservative common sense proposals: from welfare reform, to lowering taxes to encourage job creation, to giving parents options when seeking schooling for their children.

But the overarching theme has to be one of giving people back purpose. As Brooks so clearly points out:

The most compelling reason for tax reform and further welfare reform is to create more opportunities for people at the periphery of society.

A conservative reform agenda needs to be proclaimed and seen as inclusive and positive, and not punitive, because the media will paint any reform of the welfare state as punitive. Before the facts are even allowed to roll in – like in charter schools in Detroit. And that means that by giving businesses a reason to hire, and people a sense of purpose flowing from the improved possibilities they face, even a Susan Collins would have to admit that the encouragement of responsibility and independence – core American values if there ever were – are a noble end game to pursue.

And it would also mean that Elon Musk and his dystopian sci-fi pronouncements would stay within the confines of confabs for the elites, and well away from the daily lives of working men and women in America.