March 4 2013
Arthur Brooks: GOP Loses on Moral Arithmetic
One of the takeaways from IWF’s “Women in the Wilderness” panel was that conservatives don’t know how to talk about their issues in a way that appeals to people who place a high premium on fairness.
Conservatives understand that the free market, individual liberty, and an emphasis on personal responsibility promote fairness and will make life better for millions in a way that the destructive entitlement state doesn’t. But we lose the rhetorical battle.
The American Enterprise Institute’s Arthur Brooks makes a similar point in a piece in today’s Wall Street Journal intriguingly headlined “Republicans and Their Faulty Moral Arithmetic.” Brooks explains that concern for the poor is a basic American value. Unfortunately, Republicans manage to convince the public that it's not their value.
Readers of Inkwell are likely convinced, as am I, that Republicans are just as concerned about the poor as Democrats and that their policies are better for the poor. But conservatives haven’t managed to convince the voters. On the issue of “caring,” Mitt Romney lost big time, despite being a decent man who has done much to help others.
As New York University social psychologist Jonathan Haidt has shown in his research on 132,000 Americans, care for the vulnerable is a universal moral concern in the U.S. In his best-selling 2012 book "The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion," Mr. Haidt demonstrated that citizens across the political spectrum place a great importance on taking care of those in need and avoiding harm to the weak.
By contrast, moral values such as sexual purity and respect for authority—to which conservative politicians often give greater emphasis—resonate deeply with only a minority of the population. Raw money arguments, e.g., about the dire effects of the country's growing entitlement spending, don't register morally at all.
Conservatives are fighting a losing battle of moral arithmetic. They hand an argument with virtually 100% public support—care for the vulnerable—to progressives, and focus instead on materialistic concerns and minority moral viewpoints.
The irony is maddening. America's poor people have been saddled with generations of disastrous progressive policy results, from welfare-induced dependency to failing schools that continue to trap millions of children.
Meanwhile, the record of free enterprise in improving the lives of the poor both here and abroad is spectacular….
The left talks a big game about helping the bottom half, but its policies are gradually ruining the economy, which will have catastrophic results once the safety net is no longer affordable.
Brooks says that the solution is to talk about improving the lives of the poor. Instead of just saying that entitlements are costly, the GOP should explain how out of control spending will destroy the safety net. Republicans can honestly make the vulnerable the focus because, unless Democratic spending is halted and better policies put in place, the vulnerable will suffer most of all.
Romney did this tepidly, but I would say (and I am going further than Brooks or anybody on the IWF panel) that it is time for the GOP to scare people. I don’t mean scare tactics, but the truth is scary enough.
It’s not Rep. Paul Ryan’s budgetary reform policies that will push Granny over a cliff in her wheelchair. It is the policies being pursued by Democrats. Such policies may win votes but ultimately they betray the vulnerable.