I’m in the middle of reading ‘The Conservative Heart’ by Arthur Brooks of the American Enterprise Institute. Just released this month, the book’s subtitle is ‘How to Build a Fairer, Happier, and More Prosperous America.’ Who couldn’t get behind that? Well, I mean, other than the Institutional Left who are hell-bent on preventing that from happening in their quest for power.
Back to Brooks. I’ve been listening closely to him since I stumbled on AEI’s series on ‘The Pursuit of Happiness’ last year. If you haven’t watched Brooks’ talk on ‘A Conservative Vision for Social Justice’, or Megan McArdle’s discussion of ‘Social Capital’, or Robert Doar’s explanation of ‘What Works in Helping the Poor?’ I highly recommend investing the 45 minutes you’ll need to do so. Each video poses questions conservatives must answer in deciding how to pursue our goals.
I wasn’t converted to a new way of thinking by my exposure to AEI; not really. What Brooks and his colleagues were saying resonated with things I’d already thought about, ways I already looked at the world, things we’d talked about on The Refinery over and over again. But there were a few quotes that I couldn’t get out of my head:
What leaders and patriots do is they fight for the weak, no matter how the weak vote.
This one is increasingly hard to find these days. The nation is becoming more polarized and divided, and the tactics of demonization and microtargeting have turned politics into war games. Quite a few politicians pay lip service to representing all of their constituents, but it feels as though it’s becoming more rare all the time. Increasingly, politics has become US versus THEM, WITH ME or AGAINST ME; with little or no room in between and an all-out war to destroy whoever is on the other side.
The more I think about this, the more dangerous it seems to be. When we think of politics as occurring between armed camps, and everyone is either in one camp or the other, the temptation is to go to war with everyone outside of your own camp. That leaves no room for considering that there might be some people trapped behind enemy lines, some people awash in the other side’s propaganda merely because we haven’t invaded that territory yet. If politics is a war, it seems to me to be better considered a war for the hearts and minds of as many people as we can reach, with sorties into enemy-held territory to tell them the truth, counter the enemy propaganda, and help them to safety.
Who, then, is the enemy, really? The Institutional Left. Those are the planners and politicians and die-hard activists – in Hollywood, in education, in the government – who create the master plans and the smear campaigns and the talking points with which to ‘leftwash’ the people in the middle. What concerns me is that we might be characterizing the casual ‘leftwashed’ supporters of Democratic politicians and institutions as The Real Enemy, when many of them are actually the people we want to help, and the people we want to convince to switch sides.
The side that’s losing is always fighting against things. The side that’s winning is always fighting for people.
We struggle with this on the right, and we know it. The other side uses anecdotes and personal stories and shallow emotional appeal because it sets themselves up to be seen as fighting FOR people. They mask their control agenda with words that sound like advocacy. Meanwhile, as Brooks notes, while we’re talking about ‘unsustainable trajectories’ (true as they may be) people are hearing that all we care about is money.
But I noticed something this week in the wake of the recent videos released by Center for Medial Progress exposing Planned Parenthood’s practices. We are winning on the issue of Life, and we have been for a long time. The same goes for Second Amendment rights, too. WHY are we doing so well on those issues, while many of our other concerns seem to gain little traction? It just might be because in both of those cases, we have learned to frame the issues in a way that fights FOR people.
Medical ethics and women’s health concerns are claims Planned Parenthood (and other clinics) can’t make as easily anymore, especially in light of Gosnell, Karpen, and now the recent video series. But as a young friend Kate told me ages ago, this generation has grown up with their ultrasound pictures hanging on their walls or framed in their baby books. It’s far harder for the abortion defenders to chant ‘clump of cells’ when people can actually SEE what is aborted, whether it’s an image on a refrigerator or tiny body parts in a pie plate.
Self defense is even easier to frame as an issue about fighting FOR people. Criminals prey on the vulnerable, and increasing the potential victim’s chances for survival in deadly situations is an easy sell. For all the political grandstanding about gun policy whenever a gun-related tragedy occurs, the Institutional Left has made far less progress in recent years in grabbing guns and passing bans. The reason? Nearly every high-profile case of deadly shootings was perpetrated by someone who BROKE EXISTING GUN LAWS, laws that prevented law-abiding gun owners from having with them the means to defend themselves.
It seems to me that it’s high time to look at every issue we champion on the right, and figure out where the ‘fight for people’ angle is found, simplify the messaging around it, and charge forward into as many places as we can go with those ideas.
It’s time for conservative politicians and people of good faith to say: ‘I’m going to fight for you and your family with conservative policies whether you vote for me or not.’ And actually mean it.
Conservatives truly believe that our policies are better for everyone, not just ourselves. We believe that freedom and liberty and prosperity aren’t zero-sum games; we don’t increase our share of them by taking them from others, but by expanding the opportunities for everyone to have them.
Explaining more often – and more boldly and creatively – that we aren’t fighting AGAINST people who merely disagree with us, but FOR them, and that we would prefer to be fighting WITH them, is a far more positive message than the Us v. Them mindset.
Think for a moment about the Institutional Left as the Real Enemy, the ones whose power needs to be permanently stripped away. And think of the casual liberals and apolitical middle as people caught in the unfortunate position of a Left Propaganda Barrage (think ‘1984’, if that helps) that has been empowering the Institutional Left. Think of us as liberators, rather than merely combatants. Wouldn’t that view warrant a reevaluation of tactics, strategies, battle fields?
I think it does.
And I think it’s potentially a valuable weapon, one we need to learn quickly to make use of; not just to secure our own liberty and prosperity, but to secure it for as many people as possible.
More from Arthur Brooks:
We Need Optimists