I am not the first to say that Republicans are atrocious at public relations. Unable to explain themselves effectively, they are painted, and therefore perceived, as the American version of the party of “nyet,” mixed with some plutocrats and a bunch of redneck racists in Revolutionary War garb shooting varmints with muskets in their back yards.
What gets lost in all this ineptitude is what conservatives and libertarians really stand for and, more importantly, how those ideas can make life better for all Americans, how they can actually do good. So instead we suffer (to put it mildly) through eight years of Barack Obama with Dame Hillary to come and then who knows what.
Arthur C. Brooks’ new book The Conservative Heart: How To Build a Fairer, Happier, and More Prosperous America is aimed, at least in part, in setting this to right. It is a terrific and upbeat read in dark times. Campaign managers and advisers to the umpteen Republican presidential contenders would be well-advised to pick up copies and pass them on to their bosses. They should do it quickly — in time for the first debate on August 6 — because I believe Brooks, the president of the American Enterprise Institute, has provided Republicans with a template for how to win the 2016 election. It is an optimistic vision with proactive suggestions that does not linger on how bad the other side is. We already know that.
Understand that by The Conservative Heart, Brooks is not at all attempting to bring back the “compassionate conservatism” of the Bush years. As the author puts it, that term “validates those who falsely claim that conservatives are uncompassionate in the first place.” His objective is elsewhere. “Our goal is to explain to the world what is really written on the conservative heart. It is to reclaim the mantles of compassion and fairness for the movement that truly lives up to them, to make the pursuit of happiness a reality for every single American, and to dramatically rethink public policy so the blessings of work and opportunity can reach people who are left behind.”
In Brooks’ world view, the pursuit of happiness is the goal and the methods for reaching it (he calls it the “happiness portfolio”) are faith, family, community and meaningful work. It is in that last area — meaningful work — that his argument becomes quite interesting. The poor are his primary concern. Of the many disasters of the Obama era, perhaps the greatest is the huge number of people who no longer even try to find work (the astonishing labor participation rate). That group, close to a hundred million, Brooks argues, is miserable because they have no role in society, other than to take handouts, which only take the recipients further from happiness and immiserate them more.
His conservative approach for how to handle this is worth reading. He believes in helping the poor non-governmentally by leading them back to work. All work, he says convincingly, is equally meaningful in society and has great capacity to improve the lot of the individual. We should not be afraid to help people be their better selves.
Bringing this closer to electoral politics, he writes: “Year after year, this tired old narrative yields an equally tired piece of advice. If conservatives want to win again, they need to forget the moralizing and deal only with facts and figures. This is a misunderstanding. Conservatives are not too moralistic–they are not moralistic enough!”
Roger L. Simon – Co-founder and CEO Emeritus of PJ Media – is an Academy Award-nominated screenwriter and novelist. He is covering the 2016 election at Diary of a Mad Voter.