Lessons From The Conservative Heart

The other day I had an interesting conversation with my peers. They all assumed I was a Republican and were shocked when I stated I was a Pragmatic Libertarian (I guess that means I can pick and choose from various ideologies as I see fit. I do like that, and will use it to my advantage). However, I do tend to land on the conservative side of the continuum. One of my favorite conservative writers is Arthur Brooks from the American Enterprise Institute. He seems quite pragmatic as he argues for a better understanding of conservatism.

In his book “The Conservative Heart,” he states that conservatives are misrepresented in our society as “bigots and rubes.” I think with the way Trump is acting during this election I can see where people draw that conclusion. Other prevalent stereotypes include a lack of care for the poor, lack of compassion, as demonstrated by the assumption that if one gets sick, or can’t afford college, you are on your own. Brooks quotes President Obama as saying “if you are a conservative American, you are a selfish person.”

I am not going to argue whether the above assumptions are correct or not, because I think there are always examples that can demonstrate those assumptions or their antithesis. However, for the sake of argument I’d like to mention research by the University of California Los Angeles which demonstrates, “that conservative heartlessness is basically an inaccurate stereotype: In practice, conservatives are just as generous as liberals when it came to helping those down on their luck through no fault of their own.” Brooks argues in his book that too many people are buying into the myth of conservative selfishness, resulting in a huge ideological gap in our culture.

As a result Brooks has created an argument for the conservative to revise the stereotype currently held by society. He states there are seven characteristics that will help redeem the conservative persona, while demonstrating the conservative has a heart. I found his argument very interesting, but it seems to me it is a logical process for anyone to be a good citizen in a society with a foundation of healthy dialog.

The first involves being a moralist. Conservatives have come across “as wonky, unfeeling materialists whose primary focus is money.” Progressives are seen as helping people while focusing on the redistribution of wealth, while the conservative focuses on helping people through entrepreneurship, or encouraging others to pick themselves up by their bootstraps. The progressive argues for a higher minimum wage, while the conservative argues that businesses will only hire more employees if the marginal cost is less than the benefit. Thus higher wages will lead to fewer employees. The progressive comes across as the caring individual, the conservative “a mildly sociopathic economist.” Brooks makes an excellent statement, “Instead of championing low-wage Americans, conservatives sound like tax accountants to billionaires.”

The next characteristic involves “fighting for people, not against things.” I love this one. Too often conservatives are portrayed for what they are against, not as standing for something. I would like to apply a premise from Simon Sinek to this topic by reminding the reader how Sinek argues for starting with why. The conservative of today has taken a hard turn to the right. This is unfortunate. In 1980 Ronald Reagan stated at the Republican National Convention “Together, let us make this a new beginning. Let us make a commitment to care for the needy; to teach our children the values and the virtues handed down to us by our families….Ours are not problems of abstract economic theory. They are problems of flesh and blood.”

The third characteristic is get happy. Why is Donald Trump so popular? He seems to have found a vein of very unhappy people. Some say old white men, but I am not too sure about that. I am an old white man, but I am not, nor will I ever be, a Trump supporter. I don’t trust the man. However, I do agree that conservatives often come across as very angry people. “Don’t worry be happy.”

The next characteristic seems to be an interesting one, “steal all the best arguments.” Brooks argues there are buzz words that are progressive and conservative. If someone says the phrase social justice, it automatically means you are progressive. It is time to throw out the code words and start new. “First, it is a simple truism that patriots and leaders fight for everyone who needs them…Second, doing the right thing has a political payoff.” Remember, I am the pragmatic Libertarian, which means I don’t give a rip about your politics, I want to have not only the right amount of programs, but one’s that work.

The fifth characteristic demonstrates the ideological gap in this country. We just can’t talk to each other anymore. Obama is this, Bush is that; we demonize the opposition in some sort of perceived moral diatribe against the other. Go where you are not welcome is a great purpose. Force people to talk and reason. Isaiah 1:18 states, “come let us reason together, saith the Lord: though you sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow: though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool.”

The sixth characteristic is “say it in thirty seconds.” In this section Brooks gives several arguments for this point. He gives an example of how the brain works, then how the best orators of history have gotten their points across. His point is, you have thirty seconds to connect with your listener. The brain will make assumptions about whether to listen and believe you during that thirty seconds, so make sure you get your opening seconds right. “Neither Lincoln nor King was a neuroscientist. Yet they both understood the first priority in making a good impression on others. Don’t blow the opening lines.”

The seventh characteristic is “break your bad habits.” Adopt new ways of thinking, new ways of communicating, and for heaven’s sake quit using the buzz words of your ideology. “When you are about to argue that the main benefit of free enterprise is that it creates economic growth, you just pulled out a rhetorical cigarette.” Time to start thinking and talking about people.

Brookes argument is interesting, and whether it makes a difference or not, I don’t know. Recently I have been thinking about our changing country. Although 70.6% of Americans identify themselves as Christian, this number has dropped significantly. According to a CNN report there are 100 million non-Christians who live in the United States. Think about secular culture versus Christian culture, and think about media presentation. What are the values that are being presented? Who is the majority?

This is where I think Brooks’ argument really begins to shine. It really is about how the other impacts the dominant culture. The seven characteristics can be applied to free marketers, conservatives, and anyone of a religious persuasion. It is about reason and example, not about argument and hatred. It is not a zero-sum argument, but one the recognizes the other.

And that is my thought for the day!

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